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Nuala Ní Chonchúir.

Translated by Máximo Aláez Corral.

Oviedo: KRK, 2017. 316 pp.

ISBN: 978-84-8367-585-4

Among the many Irish writers of her generation, Nuala Ní Chonchúir (Dublin, 1970) is one of the most interesting and well worth reading. She is the author of five books of poetry, three collections of short stories and four novels. The most recent of these is Becoming Belle (2018), now under her real and first name, Nuala O’Connor. She was born and raised a Dubliner, but attended a Gaelscoil and learnt and fell in love with an teanga, using from then on the Irish version of her name. Her previous novel was Miss Emily (2015) about Emily Dickinson and her Irish maid. Dermot Bolger has written about this gem of a book: “Nuala O’Connor’s luminous prose has long been one of Ireland’s most treasured literary secrets. Now through her superb evocation of 19th century Amherst, an international audience is likely to be held rapt by the sparse lyricism and exactitude of O’Connor’s writing”.

Contemporary Irish literature can claim an impressive number of gifted authors in all genres and in both languages, Irish and English. As regards poetry, and poetry in Irish, and poetry in Irish written by women, to be more precise, this has proved to be very successful, with names such as Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Celia de Fréine, Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh or Doireann Ní Ghríofa, among many others. Ní Chónchúir has published a bilingual collection, Tatú/Tattoo to great acclaim. She translated her own poems and no tomfoolery was that at all since Nuala holds a BA in Irish from Trinity College Dublin and a master’s degree in Translation Studies (Irish/English) from Dublin City University. She prefers to speak of versions, and this is what they are, with changes and delicate touches in a negotiation with rhythm and meaning.

Therefore, as can be gathered from the above, translation is important for her (and for all who are stubborn enough to keep writing in the old vernacular tongue). But the writer must earn her living and pay bills, so she uses English in her books. Her second collection of short stories (Nude, 2009) has just been translated into Spanish. It is the first time her work is available for Spanish-speaking readers. The translator is Máximo Aláez Corral, an artist and lecturer at the University of Oviedo in Asturias, interested in gender studies as the two books of his own, no doubt, prove: Cuerpos reales/Cuerpos figurados (2011) and Violencias simbólicas y otras agresiones corporales en la fotografía contemporánea realizada por mujeres: de la mirada masculina a la acción crítica (2018).

He has done an excellent job in his introduction, focusing on paintings (there are many of them in the stories), the difference between a nude and nakedness, drinking, sex, and underlining the many literary and artistic references that occur: Wilde, Picasso, Louis Le Brocquy, Frida Kahlo… (This Mexican painter, by the way, appeared in one of Ní Chonchúir’s poems: “Frida Kahlo Visits Ballinasloe” The Juno Charm, 2011). Works of art inspire her, mingled with desire and frustration. In that same book she included the poem “A Cézanne Nude”, using again the word title of this one, a handful of stories in which there is, once again, one called “Roy Liechtenstein’s Nudes in a Mirror: We Are Not Fake!”. At the beginning of the book Ní Chonchúir quotes John Berger: “Nudity is a form of dress” (Ways of Seeing). But Berger also stated there that “To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognised for oneself”. Translating is undressing a text and redressing so that it can be recognized for others and be itself again.

Aláez Corral’s rendering of Ní Chonchúir’s prose in Spanish is very good too. There are a few mistakes, though, that should be corrected in a second edition if the opportunity arises. Aláez Corral states in his introduction (“La desnudez según Nuala Ní Chonchúir”) that the author extracts from poetry a special “attention to language and the selection of specific words”. But there are a few words that, alas, he has not chosen well himself: In “Madonna Irlanda” (same title in English) and in “Pesca nocturna” (“Night Fishing”) he uses “whisky” instead of “whiskey”, which would be more appropriate to keep the Irish flavor (or was it someone at the publishing house at some step through the editing process who changed it?).

To be fair, he has done his best to keep the colloquial English as spoken in Ireland that some of the dialogues show. It was not easy at all to render the language of “Una princesa Amarna del Norte” (“An Amarna Princess Up North”), where “why I done it” becomes the plainer and standard “por qué lo había hecho”; the Hiberno-English, almost Kiltartanian “they says to me” is in the translation just a dull “me dicen”. “I didn’t go to no art school” is then rendered as the correct and perfectly educated Castilian “no he ido a ninguna escuela de Arte”. Nevertheless, “as it happens” is in Spanish the fresh “ya ves tú”, as said by any corner boy.

In “Antes de perder la maleta, pero sobre todo después de haberla perdido” (“Before Losing the Valise, but Mostly After”) he translates “excited” as “excitada”, which is a common mistake (the real meaning is “hacer ilusión”, “estar entusiasmado”, etc.). “Anxiety” is translated as “ansiedad” in another story, and not, as it happens to be, “angustia” (as Harold Bloom would be happy to explain using his term “anxiety of influence”, which does not mean “willingness for influence”, but the anguish it provokes). A shade of meaning as it may be, the grossest error of the book is translating a few pages later “conductor” as “conductor” (no conundrum intended). As applied to trains, which is the case here, the English “conductor” is actually the Spanish “revisor”, the person who collects tickets. “Conductor”, in Spanish, means “driver”, “engine driver”. In “Xavier”, a story set in Barcelona, it is to be wondered how many pints of plain the translator had drunk at “The Ramblers” before translating the name of the public house as “Los Rambleros”. Always fond of a drop and a good pun, Flann O’Brien/Myles na Gopaleen would have laughed at this, yer man would have loved this wan. This is really funny, for a footnote states: ““The Ramblers” in the original”. It is well known that the Ramblas is Barcelona’s main thoroughfare. But Rambler does not refer to that, meaning “wanderer” or “roamer”. Dublin City Ramblers is, by the way, the name of an Irish folk band noted by its Republican repertoire as well as nostalgic ballads the sort of “The Rare Ould Times”. Please note that these are but very little objections to the overall sound, accurate and brilliant translation.

In “Writing the Naked Body: Sex and Nudity in Nuala Ní Chonchúir’s Nude” (Estudios Irlandeses 11 (2016): 1-11), Aláez Corral wrote about this collection of stories: “Ní Chonchúir boldly explores the possibilities of representing/narrating the naked body (both male and female), in tight connection with a preference for the sexual reading of the body as it is gazed upon by a far from innocent gendered ‘gaze’”. He is right: painters and models, erotic vision and the vision of Eros, voyeurism and the yearning for freedom and ambiguous relationships make up a challenging and rewarding collection of stories not to be missed by one of the finest Irish writers of today.