Jousting with erotic translation

A duel of translators forms the centrepiece of an event this evening as two go head to head, when their translations of the same source are put to the test live. Or as one of the participants describes it

a daunting public jousting-with-words that adds a whole new layer of opportunities for disaster and humiliation – but, also, for some thrills and fun.


Two translators, Adriana Hunter and Polly McLean, will reveal their English versions of a specially written short story. The story was originally composed in French by author Emma Becker, writer of Monsieur, and both translators have been working “in camera” revealing the results for the first time tonight.

To make the task even more of a challenge, the story centres around a sex scene. This can make for tricky writing, as the Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction award notoriously celebrates. This is no less so in translation, as organisers the LRB note

“With Sarah Ardizzone in the chair, and Emma Becker herself on the panel, Adriana Hunter and Polly McLean will explore the particular challenges of translating erotic fiction, discussing the decisions they’ve made about voice and vocabulary.”

Of course, there’s a wider point here beyond tips on translating steamy scenes. Translation is often a creative process. Those who naively believe words map “one to one” from language to language, and that a translation is definitive are usually wrong.

A translation can be just plain wrong. But equally more than one translation of the same phrase may be correct. One may be better than the other, or they may just be different – perhaps with different emphases or nuances or a different style.

Vive la différence !

Live Translation – Translating Sex with Adriana Hunter and Polly McLean
7.00 pm, Friday 8 March
London Review Bookshop
14 Bury Place, London, WC1A 2JL
Tickets: £10