Originally published as ‘L’Homme pressé’ in 1941, ‘The Man in a Hurry’ by Paul Morand has recently been translated from the French by Euan Cameron and printed by Pushkin Press. It tells the story of Pierre Niox, a Parisian antiques dealer who is permanently in a rush to get things done. His friends, business partner, valet and even his cat can’t keep up with his frenetic pace of life and gradually abandon him. However, when Pierre falls in love with the laidback and easy-going Hedwige, he is forced to adapt his impulsive behaviour to win her over by learning how to settle down and savour the simple things in life.
I’ve discovered some interesting independent publishing houses through shadowing the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize earlier this year including Pushkin Press. I enjoyed one of their other recent titles ‘In the Beginning Was the Sea‘ by Tomás González which was shortlisted for the IFFP this year and I came across ‘The Man in a Hurry’ on display in the library recently. It is the first book to be published by Pushkin Press in hardback and the quirky cover and title immediately caught my eye.
The main story about Pierre’s impatience as he moves through life at breakneck speed can be read as an apt and prescient warning about the pitfalls of busy modern life. Although presented in a largely comical light, many will recognise Pierre’s habit of finding ways to shave off valuable seconds from everyday tasks in order to fit more time for other activities into the day. Pierre remains a likeable character despite his often erratic behaviour living by his motto “quickly and badly”. However, knowledge of the more controversial aspects of Morand’s life including his allegiance to the Vichy government at the time of writing ‘The Man in a Hurry’ during the Second World War also makes it a much darker read than it first appears to be.
Euan Cameron has translated other works by Morand for Pushkin Press including ‘Venices’, ‘Tender Shoots’ and ‘The Allure of Chanel’ and he brings to life Morand’s ironic tone and surreal prose in his able translation. Sadly, ‘The Man in a Hurry’ won’t be eligible for the new Man Booker International Prize next year as only authors and translators alive at the time of submission can be considered. However, this recent translation of a classic French text is not to be missed for fans of translated fiction and modernist French literature.