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Lost in translation

Adam Thirlwell's history of the novel incorporates a dazzling array of authors, anecdotes and translations. If only he'd ditch the clever stuff and let the arguments get really serious

By Tom Chatfield   November 2007

Miss Herbert, by Adam Thirlwell Jonathan Cape, £25

Miss Herbert, Adam Thirlwell’s second book, announces itself as a very particular kind of non-fiction: “a collage of novels and romances in ten languages, on four continents, with maps, portraits, illustrations and a variety of helpful indexes.” If that’s no help, it adds that it is “an inside-out novel—with novelists as characters.” And if that’s no help, well, that’s partly the point. Because Miss Herbert is a wilfully, profoundly idiosyncratic book about the slippery edges of language, and what happens when someone tries to do something new with the novel.

As its…

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