Song of Dennis, and His Doctor

My name is Dennis, Man of Mystery.
My brow is damp, my fingers blistery.[1]
You’ll be amazed by my secret history,
For it’s no made-up take-the-piss-story.[2]

I reside in Harwich, den of vices.
I trade in fruit and exotic spices.
Mrs. Hughes says I charge swingeing prices;
I hope she dies of folliculitis.[3]

I’ve had my troubles with the local plod;
PC Evans says I’m a vicious sod
And even dumber than a gastropod,[4]
But I’ve had his daughter, the stupid clod.

I dumped my girlfriend when she got cancer.[5]
She called me bastard; I didn’t answer.
I’m still the town’s most adept romancer;
My latest squeeze is a Morris dancer.[6]

I must be unpleasant; my parents fled,
And people round here regard me with dread.
The therapist thinks I’m mentally dead;[7]
He doesn’t know what goes on in my head.

I may seem quite normal,[8] but that’s a sham;
I once threw a kitten under a tram.
See, nobody knows who I truly am,
And I don’t suppose they could give a damn.[9]

Doctor’s Notes:
[1] Patient’s internet time to be reduced.
[2] Patient to give sample.
[3] This is not medically possible.
[4] Further tests required to ascertain truth.
[5] Patient is mistaken; it was folliculitis.
[6] Patient is again mistaken; he means the maypole.
[7] See note [3.] Or perhaps 4.
[8] Patient is deluded.
[9] Patient shows signs of recovery from delusions.

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6 thoughts on “Song of Dennis, and His Doctor

  1. Do you know the books of Henri de Montherlant? The author commenting on the unreliability of the narrator’s voice in series of foot-notes is one of his specialities.

    He was a right-winger but his books The Girls and Chaos and Night are both very funny and monumental wallows in male self-pity.

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  2. I’ve heard of him, but not read him. I’ve been steering clear of French prose for a few years now. I have the idea that my French reading ability is not far off the level at which I’d be able to read texts in their original language – not far off, but not quite there. Simple prose like Camus or Bernanos I can just about handle, but attempting anything more elaborate would be very laborious. All it would take would be a few months living in a Francophone environment, and I’d be raring to go. Of course, I don’t live in a Francophone environment, and there’s little prospect of my living in one for the foreseeable future. I do read French poetry from time to time, especially editions with a facing-page translation.

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  3. My French is quite good but certainly not good enough to read literature.

    A favourite author like Raymond Queneau often playfully changes tense or point of view midway through a sentence or uses complex wordplay and puns.

    You get a sense of it in the translations ( Barbara Wright who’s worth reading about as well ) but you have to assume the writing sings even more in the original.

    I remember when Asterix was first translated into English and the books came with an insert page of explanations of the puns and references

    So I guess it then depends on your attitude to translations and translators.

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  4. Some translations are considerable works in themselves. If I ever get around to reading Rabelais in the original, I doubt my experience will be spoiled by having read the Urquhart/D’Urfey version, for example. But then these ‘classic’ translations tend to take greater liberties than do the more sober, professional versions readers and publishers expect today; they’re more like independent works. With French, I feel as if reading, say, a standard Penguin translation of Flaubert now would lessen the pleasures I might feel should I read the same book in French. This isn’t an attitude I’d take great pains to defend; for one, thing, it’s quite possible that my French will never be good enough to read Flaubert in the original. If I don’t spend some serious time living in a Francophone country, then it’s quite likely that my French will never be good enough. But for now, there are plenty of other languages with translated literature available. I’m never going to learn Danish, or Japanese, or Czech, so I will readily read translated Danish, Japanese or Czech novels. Before buying them, however, I do try to find out something about the translation itself – looking for mentions in reviews, looking up the translator and/or publisher, for example. I always worry about getting a dud. The Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation is very useful in this regard; one of the reasons I’ve never read Tolstoy’s novels is that all the translations reviewed in it are found seriously wanting, so I bide my time and hope that better ones come along. This may well be foolish.

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  5. As it happens, I’m writing a review of a Korean book that has some really serious translation issues. Rotten as the translation is, the quality of the book still shines through, but it’s a close-run thing. In this case, I didn’t try to check up on the translation first; I just thought that as it was published by the Dalkey Archive, one of my favorite publishers, I’d nothing to worry about. Had I done my usual research, I’d have found a review that really lays into the translation. Had I read this review, I almost certainly would not have bought the book – but then I would have missed out on a work I really admired in spite of the translator’s incompetence. But then again, had I read the review and chosen not to buy the book, I might have spent my money on a different book, which might have been a translated work. And I might have done my homework and found that there didn’t seem to be any problem with the translation, and I might have liked this book even more than I liked the book I bought. Or perhaps not. When you are limited by time and money, choosing which book to buy or to read (not just translated ones) can be like crossing a minefield. Not every time, of course. I’m not systematic in my reading; I don’t follow a plan, ticking books off the list as I go along. I don’t fret that I haven’t read Homer; I’ll get around to it one day, or I won’t. So I’m at the same time deeply neurotic and very laid-back.

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  6. A friend of mine back in the day who was a Russian speaker said that the translations of Solzenhitsyn which were rushed out after he won the Nobel Prize were uniformly awful.

    He also had a copy of Tolstoy’s War and Peace which was published just before the Russian Revolution. What made it special was that the publisher had smuggled a particularly incendiary word for strike into the text many times which made the book a few pages longer than it was in the original.

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