I was buying secondhand books in Oxfam last month and picked up a copy of Funeral in Berlin. It was only when flicking through it that I remembered I'd written about it before, once as an entry in our series A Literary Reference and once, the previous day, commenting on the chapter headings, most of which are about chess and which had given me the impression of having come from a chess book. But what book?
To quote myself:
...taken as a whole, various strange aspects to the snippets - unfamiliar terminology, clumsy English - give the impression that they are from an work in another language, translated into English by a non-native speaker. The occasional omission of the article may suggest that the original language (and presumably its translator) could be Russian, which lacks "a" and "the", and shoddy production would not be atypical of the Soviet publishing industry. (Or indeed, the chess book publishing industry elsewhere, har har.)Naturally on seeing the chapter headings again this started to bug me so I looked around the internet a bit, in search of a biographer or somebody else who might be able to help - and via a Twitter account came across Deighton Dossier, which advertises itself as "the Internet's most comprehensive resource for information about British author Len Deighton".
It has the feel of a translation. Perhaps from some chess primer, a beginners' guide, an introductory work. But is it? And if so, what? I don't know. There's nothing in the book to say so, to indicate (if this is indeed so) what the original work was, or who translated it. Nor to say, if this isn't so, where all these little snippets come from.
It has a blog, which right then just happened to be asking:
Having had some contact with Len I'm hoping to catch up with him in the UK in October and this might well create another opportunity for a fourth Deighton Dossier interview, so welcome ideas now of questions and themes which readers might want me to explore this time with Len.So I asked:
In the spirit of the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I will not cause stress to the reader by making you speculate on whether or not we find out the answer to the question: unfortunately we do not.
Just to ensure that there's something exciting in this piece, though, we do actually get an answer from Len Deighton. Moreover, he does in fact confirm that the headings are, indeed, taken from a beginners' book.
As you'll have seen if you've scrolled down, I speculate that it might have been a book originally in another language translated into English, or even one in a foreign language translated by Deighton himself (which would knock the "non-native speaker" theory on the head). But as yet, we still don't know what book it was.
[Thanks to Rob Mallows and Len Deighton]
[A Literary Reference index]