Book Talk: HEX, Chapter 4

Posted January 4, 2017 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Books, Not-A-Review / 0 Comments


Bilingual read-through of HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Welcome back! It’s been a few months, but we’ve returned to the HEX bilingual read-through. And this time I’ve written up the posts in advance, so there won’t be any strange and unexpected hiatuses as I get around to reading more of the book or anything like that.

Because it’s been quite a while, even though we’re on chapter 4, let’s give some breakdown of the plot to date.

So far, we know that there is a town called Black Spring/Beek (I’m just going to call it Black Beek for both from hereon out) and in this town there lives a witch. She has her eyes and mouth sewn shut and she’s wrapped up in chains. The townspeople all live in a sort of mixture between weary acceptance of their normal and terror. The young people are frustrated and angry at being trapped within the town. (To leave is to become suicidal within a matter of weeks. Basically once you live in Black Beek, you don’t leave.) We’ve met Ste, who is a professor and a family man. We’ve met Robert Grim, who is a misogynist ass. We’ve met Tiy, who is our most prominent teenager. And we’ve met the Aerenrosas, who are new in town.

And that pretty much has us caught up in terms of what’s happening in Black Beek (whether in the Netherlands or in the US) and a who’s who of the important characters to date.

As for this read-through… I’ll be talking about the translation and comparing it directly to the original version scene-by-scene and chapter by chapter.. These posts are part chapter-by-chapter book talk/review posts, part SERIOUS ENGLISH CREATIVE WRITING AND GRAMMAR GEEKERY, part simply stating what some of the changes are. Usually it’s the first two. Frequently just the one in the middle. (I LIKE GRAMMAR, OKAY. And if you speak multiple languages well enough to read books in them and love writing, I heartily recommend doing a similar read for a book of your choosing because it teaches you so much about the craft of writing and your own preferences and biases.)

You can find the commentary on the previous three chapters here: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3.

List of Prominent Characters

So, the NL and EN tags are the ones actually used in the story. If it’s listed for both then it’s a shorthand I’m using to note which of the characters is which. Where no name for ‘both’ is included I haven’t used a name for both. (Expect this list to get updated per chapter!)

  • Beek (NL), Black Spring/Black Rock (EN), Black Beek (both)
  • Stefan (NL), Steve (EN), Ste (both)
  • Katherina (NL), Katherine (EN), Kat (both), aka Wylerheks (NL), Black Rock Witch (EN) Wyler Witch (both)
  • Jolanda (NL), Jocelyn (EN), Jo (both)
  • Timo (NL), Tyler (EN), Tiy (both)
  • Oma (NL), Gramma (EN), Granny (both)
  • Max (NL), Matt (EN), Maxmatt (both)
  • Robert Grim (NL, EN)
  • Claire Hamer (NL), Claire Hammer (EN)
  • Jens van der Heijden (NL), Warren Castillo (EN), Jenren (both)
  • Jasmine Aerendonck (NL), Bammy Delarosa (EN), Jasmy (both)
  • The Aerandoncks/The Delarosas, Aerenrosa (both)
  • Martijn Winkel (NL), Marty Keller (EN),Winler (both)
  • Loes Krijgsman (NL), Lucy Everett (EN), Loucy (both)
  • Pieter van Meerten (NL), Pete VanderMeer (EN), Pete van Meer (both)
  • Marieke (NL), Mary (EN), Marie (both)
  • Laurens (NL), Lawrence (EN), Lau (both)
  • Jelmer Holst (NL), Jaydon Holst (EN), Jaymer (both)
  • Mirna (NL), Sue (EN)
  • Burak Sayers (NL), Burak Şayers (EN)

Chapter 4 – Scene 1

We start the chapter off with a slight loss of meaning. English is very popular among foreign cultures and Dutch culture is no exception. So we start off with a site name which is English in both versions and which, in English, cannot carry its connotations with cool and youth because it lacks the ability to.

We also start off with a small addition. In the English version “Obviously, no one in Black Spring read the entry that day”. Dutch ditches the ‘obviously’, which I’d say is the more sensible approach since at this point in time the reader has no way of knowing who has access to the site or when or why. It does explain it in the rest of the paragraph, but, uh, not actually obvious until the end of the paragraph.

And then we get the website’s disclaimer. In full. And some interesting changes there. The Dutch version assumes the reader knows the lyrics to a song I have never heard of. I assume, considering that the English equivalent is called “the O’Neill Raiders” song that it’s the song of a local sports club (probably football/soccer originally, but it’s never going to come up again). Next the change is a little more interesting. The original talks about ‘der-die-vlats-rijtjes’, which I’m assuming is a reference to German grammar, but the English translation talks about the Gettysburg Address.

There are some more little changes between the phrases and one big one, but first I’d like to note the change to the date. In the Dutch version the corporeal punishment alluded to is claimed not to have been used since WW2. In the English version it’s 1932.

Then, if you’ve been reading along with me, I’d like to go back a bit to the phrase ‘one-way ticket to Doodletown’. This is the first we’ve heard of this particular kind of punishment and the Dutch phrase is ‘polderdetentie’. It also doesn’t contain the figurative speech that the English version has. I’m going to have to remember to pay attention to the descriptions of Doodletown. This is going to come up again and polders as so quintessentially Dutch that it’ll be interesting to see how they’ve changed it.

Lastly, I’d like to note that the English version keeps the idea that these corporeal comments have been given since the Middle Ages since I think it’s as close to an obvious slip-up as the translation has gotten. It’s easy to explain it as just an exaggeration on Tyler’s part to make a point. After all, the disclaimer is nothing but warning and he’s clearly serious about it. But it doesn’t seem to stroke with my impressions of the content of US history classes. The exaggeration feels off because I’d not expect a US-based Black Spring to have been as much as a thought in the middle ages, never mind a place established enough to deal with Western ideas of witches. Especially not when the most famous witch hunts in the US happened in the tail-end of the 17th century, which is almost two decades after we usually teach the middle ages ended. (Yes, it’s an approximate, but the point is that it feels off because the timing doesn’t work for me.)

Jelmer Holst becomes Jaydon Holst and Burak Sayers has a slight spelling change to, I assume, restore a diacritic in the English version because it spells it Şayers now. We also get more use of homophobic slurs (that aren’t aimed at anyone in particular, BUT STILL).

Pannenkoekenhuis De heksenkring becomes Sue’s Highland Diner and the Kleine Bartholomeuskerk becomes the Little Methodist Church. Both of which I’m going to leave there without comment. (I’ll undoubtedly get back to the diner/pancake house at some point, though.)

Sue was also originally Mirna.

We also see an interesting change in that, in the Dutch original, only Burak has the first two periods of his schoolday cancelled. The other four teens are truants. In the English version, the implication is that they’re all free for the first two hours and all of them snuck off the school grounds and into the mall-area.

There’s a change in Jaymer’s cussing, which I will not repeat here. Suffice to say the Dutch is a little more, um, eloquent and discomfiting. But what I’d like to mention is that both versions make a note that there’s something up with his background. In true “I’m going to tell the reader the characters know something the readers don’t without telling them what it is” fashion, I am annoyed with it. (I just find it lazy writing, sorry. If you want to create suspense, don’t outright tell me that characters know something I don’t. Hint at it and let me guess that they know more than the narrative is telling me. If you’re going to explicitly say what effectively boils down to “Oh, the characters know something, but I’m not going to share it with the reader” at best you pull me out of the narrative. At worst I decide this is the point I stop reading your book altogether because I dislike the blatant attempt at catching my interest.)

Now we have new church: St. Mary’s! The Dutch church is just a bigger version of the small one we’ve just mentioned. As such, the English version loses the note to distinguish them. (It makes me wonder why there are two different churches in the US setting, though.)

There are some more necessary road changes to account for the lack of country-border in an all-US setting, but I’d like to note that the nursing home Rozenburgh became the RoseBurgh Nursing Home. Not a big change and nothing remarkable about it.

Aaaand then we get a bout of ablism as the book compares the witch (Wylerheks in Dutch and Black Rock Witch in English) to someone with autism because she sticks to the same routine. Also OCD. And one of the roads has been renamed again, but I’m stuck on the casual ablism in the story. I know it’s the characters’ opinions and I should have more leeway than I do, but it’s not like the text is going to address it at any point.

And then there is a discussion about how witches only appear in fairytales and, honestly, I really just want to scream in frustration because there are so many shows and stories that involve witches. And because I haven’t said it in a while: SALEM WITCH TRIALS. I will forgive a Dutch town with a witch problem not have heard of Salem, but I kind of expect it to come up in an American town. BECAUSE SALEM. But no. Nope. Apparently the only other media-with-witches these teens seem to be familiar with is the Blair Witch Project. (To be fair, they’re filming their witch and doing experiments, so they do have some overlap. I just want to sit here and go “Buffy anyone?” There is a SERIOUS LACK OF BUFFY MENTIONS considering how many reruns there were of 90s fantasy shows in this period.)

Oh, look. More ablism. This time it’s in the narrative. And it’s not present in the Dutch version. (To be fair, I don’t think Dutch uses ablest language in the way that English uses ‘lame’, but there’s really no need to change the original ‘some sort of excuse’ to ‘a lame excuse’. You may lose a bit of intensity, but it wasn’t there in the Dutch version anyway, so it’s a deliberate addition.)

Hotel ‘t Spijker has become Point Inn. Both narratives also, decide to forego past perfect tense to describe what happened in the past. Which, hi, is another thing that throws me out of the story because the rest of this is already in past tense, so keeping the past tense going just feels like the writer has no sense of how time works in a narrative because now it implies everything is happening at the same time. Except it’s not.

There are some more road name changes and signage changes. I assume that the sign has been changed to reflect US traffic signs.

And then the narrative decides to add more casual misogyny by stating that what’s just happened is more memorable than ‘the first explosion of the silicon breast implant’. The other examples listed are Wikipedia and the invention of penicillin, so it’s not like we didn’t have a whole lot of examples other than exploding breast implants. Why not, say, nuclear bombs? Why specifically the explosion of a breast implant? Sure, it’s a gross image, but I’m sure there are other equally gross images that don’t involve harm to women so directly.)

And then we have some smaller changes to explain why the camera failed to capture the witch’s disappearance trick, but it’s more a shift from implying that no footage of the trick was captured to explicitly stating that no footage was captured.

Chapter 4 – Scene 2

De wereld draait door has become Jimmy Fallon.

Dorpscafe ‘t Wittecke has become Quiet Man Tavern.

There are a substantial number of changes to the text that Jaymer sends to Tiy, though this is down to changes in grammar more than anything. It does add the word ‘man’, though. (As in ‘Man, that was fun’.)

And that’s actually pretty much it for this chapter. We have another example of a previously unnamed part of town getting a name, but that’s about it.