Filip Florian and Alistair Ian Blyth interviews
For this week’s Read This Next, we’re very fortunate to have gotten interviews with both the author of The Days of the King, Filip Florian, and the translator, Alistair Ian Blyth. I would strongly recommend everyone read these interviews, as not only are they a wonderful read in and of themselves, but they will also undoubtedly provide all soon-to-be readers of The Days of the King with a more rewarding and richer reading experience.
Here’s a bit of a preview of the two on the subject of long sentences (which abound in Florian’s novel):
FLORIAN: In general, I love long sentences, which hark back to the incantations of mediaeval magicians or the manias of the alchemists. As I have said, I think literary fiction can bewitch readers. It can draw them into a story, which is like a world different than the real one, like a happy island, exempt from all the stress and nastiness of the present day.
In addition, given that the novel is set in the second half of the nineteenth century, I think the long sentences and lists help to create an atmosphere whereby to extract, through double distillation, the essence of the epoch, the perfume of days gone by.
BLYTH: In the age of Twitter and instant communication, long sentences might seem an anachronism, an impediment to instantaneous reception of the message. They demand a slower, more patient kind of reading. They require that the reader should take pleasure in the act of reading for its own sake. The Days of the King is not the kind of novel you can read quickly just to find out what happens, the same as watching a film. The sentences are not a vehicle to transport you from the beginning of the book to the end as rapidly as possible, without giving you the time to look out of the window or stop and savour the different places along the way. In fact, travel and means of transport are an important theme in the novel. It takes many days for Joseph Strauss to travel from Berlin to Bucharest by mail coach, train, Danube steamboat, and then horse and cart along muddy, unpaved roads. The long sentences are, in this sense, a reflection of the different rhythms of life in the nineteenth century. But by the end of the novel we also see how history and quotidian time itself have begun to accelerate: trams and the telegraph come to Bucharest; the Russo-Turkish War, in which Romania gained her independence, foreshadows modern methods of warfare. I might also add that as well as a different kind of reading the long sentences also demand a different kind of translation, which is ultimately the closest possible form of reading. Translation is also the least hurried form of reading. You have time to become absorbed in the intricate architecture of each sentence. Romanian is a highly inflected language (remarkably, it is the only Romance language to have preserved from Latin the dative and vocative inflexions) and so it is possible to create very long sentences because the word order is in a lot of ways more pliable than it is in English. In Filip Florian’s prose, the sentences are long not because he forgets to add full stops, but rather each individual sentence is a complex structure, wrought with great precision. The unhurried reader will also discover here a wealth of grammatical figures. Roman Jakobson once described a poetics that would distinguish between lexical tropes and grammatical figures, where the latter are superior to the former. The sentences in The Days of the King are long because it is a novel of grammatical figures, some of which are recurrent, creating a special kind of musicality. In the novel, the figures of syllepsis and zeugma become grammatical leitmotivs, for example. The novel has a very rich, descriptive style, but I think it is the grammatical figures that give the prose its unique feel.
You can read the full interviews with Florian and Blyth at Read This Next.