Wel­come to Gray’s Hell, ‘a mag­nif­i­cent feat of reimagining’

The dis­tinc­tive power of the ver­bal and pic­to­rial artist’s lat­est work lies in the clar­ity of the sto­ry­telling

The Herald Magazine - - Arts BOOKS - Re­view by Joseph Far­rell

Canon­gate, £14.99

HELL: DANTE’S DIVINE TRIL­OGY DEC­O­RATED AND ENGLISHED IN PRO­SAIC VERSE by Alas­dair Gray

WHO makes the best trans­la­tor: a du­ti­ful but per­haps dull crafts­man earnestly ded­i­cated to the writer he is work­ing on, or a vi­sion­ary gifted with cre­ative imag­i­na­tion and in­tel­lec­tual en­ergy to ac­com­pany his own ab­sorp­tion in an­other ge­nius?

Don’t rush to an­swer. Vladimir Nabokov, him­self au­thor of the ex­u­ber­ant prose of Lolita, was out­raged by flam­boy­ant ren­der­ings of Pushkin from the Rus­sian and opted for the first as be­ing more likely to do faith­ful, if sub­servient, jus­tice to the orig­i­nal. What would he have made of Alas­dair Gray?

There is no doubt which cat­e­gory the au­thor of La­nark and self-pro­claimed “ver­bal and pic­to­rial artist” be­longs to, and this abun­dant tal­ent of his has pro­duced what it is ap­pro­pri­ate to call “Gray’s Dante”.

This “Englished, pro­saic verse” is a new cre­ation, more a par­al­lel text than a trans­la­tion, and an al­to­gether wel­come ad­di­tion to the not yet com­plete works of Gray. No one ex­pects foot­notes. Any­one who wants to find out who Far­i­nata degli Uberti was or why Dante was so bru­tal to Filippo Ar­genti will have to look else­where. Gray does not strug­gle as the ar­ti­san would do to ren­der faith­fully the sense of the in­di­vid­ual verses, but has hap­pily rewrit­ten as he goes along, ab­bre­vi­at­ing, omit­ting sec­tions and feel­ing no obli­ga­tion to trans­late ev­ery line Dante wrote.

There is no sense that he has been up at the mid­night hour puz­zling over nu­ances or sweat­ing over how to ren­der ob­scure the­o­log­i­cal points. His is not slav­ish re­spect but dis­crim­i­nat­ing love which he is anx­ious to share.

The im­pres­sion is that he ac­com­pa­nies Dante along­side Vir­gil, the poet’s Guide, Lord and Mas­ter, on

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