Scotland in Europe

Scotland in Europe

Scotland in Europe

Scotland in Europe


This volume counters the relative neglect of comparative literature in Scotland by exploring the fortunes of Scottish writing in mainland Europe, and, conversely, the engagement of Scottish literary intellectuals with European texts.


Ian Rankin

In December 2005, the UK Crime Writers’ Association announced that in future its prestigious Gold Dagger award for the year’s best detective novel would be restricted to books originally published in the English language. The timing was hardly propitious: the 2005 Gold Dagger had just been won by Arnaldur Indridason for Silence of the Grave a book set in Reykjavik and translated from the Icelandic. One argument proposed for this change in the rules was that judges could not be sure whether they were judging the story itself, or the translator’s version of it. This made me think about my own experiences with translation. My Inspector Rebus novels have been translated into twenty-seven languages (at the last count), including Welsh, Croatian and Catalan. I have won prizes for my fiction in Italy, Germany, France, Denmark and Finland. Those prizes were not for the original book, but for the translation, and they throw into relief the invisible power of the translator.

Years back, when I was hardly translated at all, a friend who teaches in Japan told me that Roddy Doyle’s books did not do well in that country because the humour failed to translate. Was this a cultural problem, or merely due to the inadequacies of the translator? It’s a moot point. My own favourite translators are the ones who get in touch with questions. They may ask what a “bunnet” is, or what “a half and a hauf” means. They may feel they are missing some pun or culture-specific reference. We will work together to attempt to resolve the problem. (My Danish translator once pored over books of card games in order to find an equivalent for Strip Jack Naked, just so he could render one of my novel titles, Strip Jack, into something a local audience would better relate to.)

A precious few of my translators even make the trek to Edinburgh, allowing me to walk them through the book. They soak up the city’s atmosphere. By exploring the tenements, they are better able to describe them. A pint at the Oxford Bar allows them to enter John Rebus’s head. They witness the sharp wit of the typical Scottish pub.

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