On Poetry and Culture Shock

Trainspotting the book: a sample.

Trainspotting the book has a lot less comedy elements than the movie, and it is very hard to read because most of it is not in English, but in Edinburgh Scots. If you have never heard Scots or at least the Edinburgh accent, I don’t think you can understand the book at all. The Spanish translation is absolutely brilliant: it is written in a version of slang that is contemporary enough to sound very true, but it doesn’t try to reproduce the sounds of the vernacular: the spelling is always the standard. That is the best way of avoiding to turn Edinburgh into any specific Spanish town.

I got the book in Spanish one Christmas. When I got to the final page I started all over again. When I finished it a second time, I reread a handful of the best sections. Then I lent it, and my friend did more or less the same. Then I lent it a second time and I lost it (that’s what happens when you lend books). That was about seven years ago. Ever since then, once in a while I went to a bookshop with materials in English and I opened Trainspotting at random, to see if I understood anything. Nae, ah couldnae. But after a few years, I did, and I didn’t even remember where the difficulties had been before: that’s simply because now, after having travelled four times to Scotland (two holidays, one study, one work), the version of English I hear in my head is Scottish English. Not slang, as in the book, but it is definitely Scottish.

So that you can see what I am talking about, here you have the beginning of the novel. The translation’s mine; the published one is really good, but as I’ve said, I don’t have it with me any more.

The sweat wis lashing oafay Sick Boy; he wis trembling. Ah wis jist sitting thair, focusing oan the telly, tryin no tae notice the cunt. He wis bringing me doon. Ah tried tae keep ma attention oan the Jean-Claude Van Damme video.

Le chorreaba el sudor a Sick Boy, y estaba temblando. Yo estaba sentado sin hacer nada, viendo la tele, intentando pasar del hijoputa. Me ponía malo. Procuré concentrarme en el vídeo de Jean-Claude Van Damme.

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