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The British Bussi: How We All Fell in Love with French Noir

Posted on 28th February 2017 by Sally Campbell & Martha Greengrass
Described by The Sunday Times as ‘a novel so extraordinary that it reminded me of reading Stieg Larsson for the very first time’ French crime writer Michel Bussi’s first translated novel, After The Crash, was a publishing sensation. A gripping crime novel following the aftermath of a plane crash that left a sole survivor, it became a runaway Waterstones hit. Now reader’s looking to take another turn in the company of Bussi’s Normandy noir can sink their teeth into Black Water Lilies, where murder disrupts of tranquillity of Monet’s Giverny. As we anticipate what is sure to be another hit, we caught up with Bussi’s English publisher Kirsty Dunseath who told us about crafting a winning translation.

Photo: Michel Bussi (c) P Patsas

I first heard about Michel Bussi when I was on a work trip to the Sydney Writers festival in May 2013. I was on a programme that gathered together editors from around the world, and a French editor – Frédérique Polet from Place des Editeurs – told me about a French author whose book had just begun to take off in a big way. That book was Un Avion Sans Elle by Michel Bussi – After the Crash in English. I read it the minute I got back from the trip and instantly fell in love! We bought the rights but then of course it had to be translated and we published the hardback in 2015, with a tremendous reaction from Waterstones booksellers who not only picked it out and put it front of store, but also gave rave reviews through their social media channels.

What distinguished After the Crash for me was the absolutely compelling, twisty plot married with a great detective in Crédule Grand-Duc and the wonderful sense of place. There is often a fine line to be negotiated with books in translation whereby a reader wants to feel that they are being taken to a place and a culture that is different to our own, without that journey being too alienating or cultural references becoming lost in translation.  In all of Michel Bussi’s works, there is a strong focus on a particular French region or territory – from the Normandy seaside of After the Crash, to Monet’s garden in Giverny in Black Water Lilies, and the exotic landscape of Reunion island in Don’t Let Go – so that the setting almost becomes a character in its own right. (We had fun with the translation of Don’t Let Go as some of the trees in Reunion have common names in French but only botanical names in English!) 

I have always believed that good books cross boundaries – that a good book is simply a good book no matter the language of origin. Some of our most successful books have been translations – The Shadow of the Wind, The Reader, Sophie’s World; all of these titles have universal appeal and have been enjoyed by millions of readers across the world. At the heart of such titles, and what gives them such universal appeal, is an emphasis on strong storytelling. They may take us to a setting or culture that is distinct from our own, but they create a plot that swallows us whole, characters that seem to live and breathe, a fictional world that readers can dive into and explore.  

In France Michel Bussi has gone from strength to strength, rising up through the bestseller lists so that by the end of 2016, he was the second bestselling author overall. In Black Water Lilies he paints a fascinating portrait of the town Monet made famous – but behind the picture postcard, there are shared secrets, a death, and the mystery of a missing masterpiece…                                                                                                   

    

Kirsty Dunseath, Publisher W&N Fiction

    

  

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