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The Delighted States

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  128 ratings  ·  27 reviews
Having slept with a prostitute in Egypt, a young French novelist named Gustave Flaubert at last abandons sentimentality and begins to write. He influences the obscure French writer Édouard Dujardin, who is read by James Joyce on the train to Trieste, where he will teach English to the Italian novelist Italo Svevo. Back in Paris, Joyce asks Svevo to deliver a suitcase cont
Hardcover, 592 pages
Published May 27th 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published October 25th 2007)
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3.97  · 
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 ·  128 ratings  ·  27 reviews

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Jun 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Volete scrivere un romanzo? Prima leggete questo.

Prima di iniziare a leggere quanto segue, dimenticatevi per un attimo quante stelline ho dato a questo libro. A prescindere dal fatto che possa essermi piaciuto o meno, è importante che vi renda edotti innanzitutto sulla sua funzione.

Per non farvela tanto lunga, direi che è la prova del nove per capire chi sa scrivere con cognizione di causa, e chi sa leggere.

Scorrendo le recensioni su “Mademoiselle O”(veramente poche a dire il vero), ho notato, c
MJ Nicholls
Miss Herbert: A book of novels, romances and their translators, containing ten languages, set on four continents and accompanied by maps, portraits, squiggles and illustrations—titled The Delighted States in the United States—is a digressive meditation on literary style, translation and avant-garde genealogy. The (English) title refers to Juliet Herbert, the English governess of Flaubert’s niece, Caroline. Her womanly charms were admired by Gustave—“at the table my eyes follow the gentle slope o ...more
It's great to see someone addressing themselves at this kind of length to literary theory – although this is not really a book of ‘Theory’, but rather a long working-out of the author's feelings about style, what it is, and how well it can be translated. Thirlwell's survey takes in a fairly standard timeline of the European canon, tracing innovations in narrative voice more or less from Sterne to Nabokov, taking in Joyce and Kafka and Tolstoy and Gombrowicz on the way, and glorying in the random ...more
Katie Knight
Aug 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I liked this book so much that I'm reading it again. Thirlwell's ideas about translation are wonderful. AND, there's a bonus Nabokov short story hanging out in the back of the book which he translated, so you get to see him put his convictions to the test, sort of--and an interesting choice, because Nabokov was rabid about his translations.

And part of the book is written using a flourish--as in a pen scribble/swirl--a la Tristram Shandy. I now have a deep love for anyone who uses a scribble to
Feb 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
Updated 10-17-13 to four stars (from three), because four years later, I am still thinking about this book.

Original review:
Kind of like an extended essay that one would write for English class. The main idea is that novelists’ styles are influenced by what came before them, but that sometimes language barriers and imperfect translations make the influences more like the eddies of turbulent flow than the direct line “point a to point b” of laminar flow. (I had to add some engineering to this rev
Chad Post
Nov 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
OK, so this is a pretty haphazard, random, seemingly disorganized ramble through traditions of international literature, issues of translation, of style, of aesthetics, of sentimentality. It's as if the reader is at a bar with Thirlwell and he's holding court, shooting shit with an air of playful knowledge.

Some people might criticize this sort of Sternian disregard for linearity, but to be honest, I like drinking, I like bars, I like shooting the shit, and I like Adam. (Doesn't hurt that I'm a
Aug 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
While discussing possible subjects for my senior honors thesis with Professor Alfred David, my school's department chair at the time, I mentioned that I might like to explore the role of the uncanny in Kafka's works. Professor David responded that, although he didn't disagree that the topic could make for an interesting thesis, he noted that unless I could read German, he recommended that I avoid works not originally written in English. Until that moment, it hadn't explicitly occurred to me what ...more
May 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Entertaining, engagingly playful book of literary criticism, a homage to the art of the novel via a digressive, witty discussion about style, translation, romance and realism, the citizenship of writers, and what ever else cross references with the above. Thirlwell seems exceptionally well-read for someone just now turning 30. With a 25 year head start I'm perhaps a thousand books behind him. Some of which he writes about I will never read but his doing so broadens my understanding of the litera ...more
Jim Coughenour
Sep 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I'm half-way through this delightful exploration of European fiction. On the evidence of this book, Thirlwell seems to be one of those exceptionally lucky and intelligent young men who have discovered their métier – and I'd be completely jealous of him if this book wasn't so much fun to read. His mapping of the modern novel reminds me (sometimes) of Milan Kundera's essays, but Thirlwell's obviously having more fun.

He's also fortunate in his publisher, which has created a book that is something o
Sep 21, 2010 rated it it was ok
Written in an incredibly pompous and condescending tone that would perhaps be forgivable if he had anything original or interesting to say, but his ideas are generally simplistic, his opinions often misguided, and his style is, at best, clunky and mannered. Nabokov he ain't, although one gets the feeling that he'd like to be, if only he could muster the vocabulary. On the other hand, he does have excellent taste; all of the writers that he discusses are well worthy reading, and the book is at it ...more
this book was right up my alley. a lengthy meditation on the relationships between writers, their writings, and the possible value of a bad translation.
Richard Anderson
Dec 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Outlandish, fascinating study of narrative modes.
Sep 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
“The Delighted States: A Book of Novels, Romances, & Their Unknown Translators, Containing Ten Languages, Set on Four Continents, & Accompanied by Maps, Portraits, Squiggles, Illustrations, & a Variety of Helpful Indexes” by Adam Thirwell (2007) not only has an outrageously long title but is a book of surprises and insight. It is a treatise on writing, reading, and translating novels, and how writers from all over the world influenced each other over great distances and time.
The l
Feb 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"La vita reale non è utopia: è il suo opposto. Ma siccome è l'opposto dell'utopia, è anche utopica. E' piena di progetti che non si realizzeranno affatto. La vita reale è fatta di libri di diete, orari, agende, brochure di viaggio, riviste di arredamento d'interni. E' sempre speranzosa.
La vita reale, perciò, è come un sogno. Qualsiasi cosa ordinaria e banale [...] contiene il germe della trasfigurazione" (p. 280)
C'è una categoria di libri che io adoro particolarmente, che proprio mi entusiasmano
Nov 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
a masterpiece of literature analysis looking at style (conclusion is that style is international, even translatable from originally written languages, character is banal, flukes and coincidences happen, at times happily, but are just that, exile and immigration make a difference and at times very detrimental to the artist due to lack of support and isolation.
thirlwell shows off his knowledge of english, french, czech?, and some russian, reading and comparing translations and originals, and tran
Sherwood Smith
A meandering excursion in search of the evolution of style. Thirwell's sympathies lie with Flaubert and Maupassant, and those influenced by them: writers who create a puzzle with fiction, whose readers will promise not to sink into the narrative, but remain outside, perusing the work through the lens of the intellectual. He relates his anecdotes with sympathy and humor, he doesn't hector like some of the more earnest critics, or browbeat, like Bloom tends to do.

My favorite bits are the difficult
Jul 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
See my full review here:

Thirlwell is concerned not so much with what is lost in translation, but what is found: the peculiar magic of a writer's style communicating itself to readers even through the mediating work of the translator. He contradicts the familiar ethos that you can't really -get- a novel if you do not read it in its original language. Instead, Thirlwell puts forward his belief in literature's multiplicities: it is not one thing, and it neve
Aug 27, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
I liked this book. I found the author's style enjoyable and his criticial insights were often original and striking. But I didn't finish it. This probably says more about me (and my time of life) than it does about the book, though, and I would recommend it to anyone with a serious enthusiast's or professional's interest in the art of fiction, and particularly the problems of translating auctorial style from one language to another. I don't believe it can be done; Thirlwell does, and he was begi ...more
Michael Norwitz
Aug 14, 2016 rated it it was ok
A fascinating subject matter, well in line with my interests, tracking the genealogy of various modernist literary ideas as they are translated from one language to the other. Unfortunately, the writing is so vague and meandering that I frequently got lost in the argument (and compared it unfavorably to Le Ton Beau de Marot). There were some points of interest, specifically about writers I had some familiarity of, but passages on writers unfamiliar to me were baffling.
Jun 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
A good reference book on key inflection points where the style of the novel evolved into new directions. There are also interesting revelations on how much is lost in translation when a book starts off in one language and ends up in another and is often translated off another translation.
I found it engaging enough to read at the cottage.

John Self
Nov 08, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An inventive and beautifully produced tour of European literature, with an emphasis on the modernist and avant-garde, told in a chummy (sometimes annoyingly so) voice. Full review here:
Andrea Patrick
Dec 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is literary criticism at its best, specifically focusing on style and translation and whether the twain shall meet.
May 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: writers
Undescribable treatise on many writers, ostensibly about translation but so much more. Witty, smart, fun.
Sep 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
Read more Nabokov
An entertaining look at the stylistic development of the novel across centuries and cultures, considering the influence of literary translation in the spread of narrative innovation.
rated it it was amazing
Jul 26, 2016
rated it really liked it
Feb 18, 2014
Picador USA
rated it it was amazing
Mar 22, 2010
Aug 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
A really interesting and ambitious attempt to describe the evolution of the novel.
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Adam Thirlwell was born in 1978 and grew up in North London. He is a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford and assistant editor of Areté magazine.

His first novel, 'Politics', a love story with digressions, was published in 2003, and his second book, 'Miss Herbert: A Book of Novels, Romances & Their Unknown Translators, Containing Ten Languages, Set on Four Continents & Accompanied by Maps, P