Of Books and TV Adaptations: The Wings of the Sphinx

The Wings of the Sphinx by Andrea Camilleri, tr. Stephen Sartarelli (Picador, 2009)

The Wings of the Sphinx by Andrea Camilleri, tr. Stephen Sartarelli (Picador, 2009)

One of the first of my Christmas present books that I got through was the 11th in Andrea Camilleri‘s Montalbano series, The Wings of the Sphinx. It was also the first one I’d read where I’d seen the TV version first.

I’m not a particularly visual person, or perhaps I should say I don’t have a particularly visual imagination, but either way, I don’t generally form a strong mental image of book characters. As a result, apart from thinking that Luca Zingaretti isn’t old enough to play Montalbano (according to this book, he’s 56 and the actor is 52 so there’s less in it than I’d thought), I didn’t have much of an opinion on the appearance of the actors. Now, however, I keep reading them and struggling to fit them into the impression I’d got from the TV. I was surprised to read Fazio using non standard language as he always seems so precise. In the book there is also less of the “poor old Fazio – he’s the only one who ever does any work” feeling that I get from the TV version.

English: Luca Zingaretti

Luca Zingaretti (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Then there’s the fact that the murderer is identified and arrested a good 50 pages or so from the end, while the book meanders on musing on corruption in high places and Salvo and Livia’s love life. I guess that just didn’t fit the format  of the TV crime drama so I quite understand why they’d change it.

It also made me think about the difference in translating for subtitles and the long form of book translation – there’s so much going on in the background to these novels and Stephen Sartarelli gets the luxury of space and occasional endnotes to explain it in. The nameless subtitlers, on the other hand, have to squeeze everything into a few lines that can be quickly read while still following the drama on screen – the constraints must be quite a challenge. There again, the viewer has the benefit of the pictures, facial expressions and the sound of the Italian to help with understanding what’s going on. Oh, and the scenery! However strong a sense of Sicily you get from Camilleri’s writing, the scenery is something else. Just the colour of the sea has me longing for a little Mediterranean sunshine…


Cefalù by pj_vanf

About forwardtranslations

I'm a freelance literary translator from German and French to English. The title of my blog comes from Mary Schmich's description of reading: it struck home with me, and seems especially apt for translated fiction. Here are some of my musings on what I'm reading, re-reading, reading to my children, and translating.
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