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
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