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Matinee Blog

book translation

Scandinavian authors drive boom in foreign literature sales

Scandinavian writers, from Stieg Larsson to Jo Nesbo, have been fuelling an increasing demand for translated works across the UK, as books by authors from outside Britain get snapped up. This increase in the popularity of foreign literature could have a knock-on effect with the demand for subtitling services, as books get transformed into TV shows and films.

For example, when Penguin Classics brings out its collection of translated short stories soon, called Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange, it will be the first time in a millennium that these earliest known tales in Arabic will have been printed for an audience reading in English.

One mainstream publisher, which concentrates on literature in translation, is publishing writers from 18 nations in 2014. These include the Japanese author Haruki Murakami, Norwegian crime novelist Nesbo and compatriot Karl Ove Knausård, who in Norway alone has sold approaching half a million copies of his autobiographical series, of which three of the six volumes are now complete (the fourth will be published in 2015).

Scandinavian literature, in particular, has been a real driving force behind the surge in interest in foreign books of recent years. But recently there were also big queues at London bookstore Foyles for the latest Murakami book, while many other bookshops across the country opened at breakfast time to deal with demand.

Publishing director Liz Foley said translations had “become more mainstream”, and competition among those vying for rights to translations was growing more intense.

Waterstones’ fiction buyer Chris White agreed, adding that the perception of translated works had changed over the last decade or so.

“They are simply treated as great books,” he explained.

It also seems that social media outlets also drive the thirst for non-English works and spread the word about books by overseas authors.

What’s more, industry insiders are convinced that some publishers have not fully estimated the size of the market for translations.

We still have some way to go before the UK reads as many works in translation as European partners like France, Spain or Italy. However, our thirst for translated works is only likely to increase in the months and years ahead, keeping subtitling services busy as the TV versions also continue to appear on our screens.