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Grief Is the Thing with Feathers

European Literature Prize 2017

11 September 2017

The jury of the 2017 European Literature Prize has chosen to honour British author Max Porter and his Dutch translator Saskia van der Lingen for Verdriet is het ding met veren (De Bezige Bij), the Dutch translation of the novel Grief Is the Thing with Feathers. The author will receive a sum of €10,000 and the translator €5,000. Chair of the jury, poet and novelist Anna Enquist, will present the prize to Porter and Van der Lingen on Thursday, 2 November, at the opening night of the Crossing Border Festival in The Hague.

Grief Is the Thing with Feathers tells the story of a young family in London. The mother dies suddenly, leaving the father to bring up two young sons. Then a crow moves in. It acts as a busybody, friend, babysitter, consoler and therapist. ‘I won’t leave until you don’t need me any more,’ it tells them. The story takes the form of a prose poem, in short fragments spoken by Dad, the Boys and Crow in turn. Each voice has a tone very much its own. There are flashbacks and flashforwards, and the style switches between narrative, fairy tale, poetry and sound play, with the mythic figure of Crow as an homage to the poetry of Ted Hughes.

The jury praised the ingenuity and originality of the novel, which moves the reader without ever lapsing into sentimentality, and was impressed by the resourcefulness of the translator, not least her inspired use of the rich range of bird metaphors available in Dutch. With this prize the jury has chosen to reward an outstanding example of how varied European literature can be. Its report describes the book as ‘a novel you can read five times and discover something new every time.’

Max Porter, cover boek, en Saskia van der Lingen (c) photo Max Porter: Lucy Dickens.

Max Porter (b. 1981) studied art history but soon entered the book business as the manager of an independent bookshop, winning the 2009 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He joined Granta and Portobello Books in 2012, where he has gone on to become Editorial Director. Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, published in English in 2015, is his debut.

Saskia van der Lingen trained as a translator at the University of Amsterdam’s Instituut voor Vertaalwetenschap and has since built up an extensive track record as a translator of literature and art books. From 1993 to 2004 she was part of the team that produced a new Dutch translation of the Bible.

European Literature Prize

The other titles nominated for the 2017 European Literature Prize were De melancholie van het verzet by László Krasznahorkai, translated by Mari Alföldy (Wereldbibliotheek), Schittering by Margaret Mazzantini, translated by Miriam Bunnik and Mara Schepers (Wereldbibliotheek), Swing Time by Zadie Smith, translated by Peter Abelsen (Prometheus) and Ons soort mensen by Juli Zeh, translated by Annemarie Vlaming (Ambo/Anthos).

This year the jury was made up of Anna Enquist (chair), author Niña Weijers, booksellers Janna Navis (Dominicanen, Maastricht) and Lilian Zielstra (Godert Walter, Groningen), and translator Rob Gerritsen (ELP winner 2016).

The seventh European Literature Prize, for the best European novel published in Dutch translation over the past year, will be presented to the author and translator on Thursday 2 November 2017. Previous winners were Marie NDiaye and translator Jeanne Holierhoek for Drie sterke vrouwen, Julian Barnes and translator Ronald Vlek for Alsof het voorbij is, Emmanuel Carrère and translators Katelijne De Vuyst and Katrien Vandenberghe for Limonov, Jérôme Ferrari and translators Jan Pieter van der Sterre and Reintje Ghoos for De preek over de val van Rome, Jenny Erpenbeck and translator Elly Schippers for Een handvol sneeuw, and Sandro Veronesi and translator Rob Gerritsen for Zeldzame aarden.

The European Literature Prize is an initiative of the Dutch Foundation for Literature, academic-cultural centre SPUI25, current affairs magazine De Groene Amsterdammer and Athenaeum Booksellers. It is financed by the Dutch Foundation for Literature, the Lira Fund and the De Lancey and De La Hanty Foundation.

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Peter Bergsma

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Peter Bergsma

Director Amsterdam Translators’ House

p.bergsma@letterenfonds.nl