Bloomsbury Berlin have just brought out their translation of ‘The Mistress of Nothing’, ‘Eine Liebe in Luxor’, and it is a very handsome book indeed.
The Germans have changed the title of the novel. I wasn’t consulted on this, but I don’t have a problem with it, as I’m sure they needed to get a title that they felt worked well in German. I really struggled to find the right title for this book, in English, let alone other languages. I went through a number of different titles, from ‘The Beautiful House’ (which is what the ancient Egyptians called the building where they mummified bodies) to ‘The Nile at Night’. ‘The Beautiful House’ was too interiors magazine sounding, while ‘The Nile at Night’ was too bland. A writer friend of mine had stated categorically at lunch one day that the title had to make it clear to the reader that the book is set in Egypt, because books about Egypt are so popular. So I tortured myself trying to figure that one out over the years, though of course ‘Death on the Nile’ was already taken and any variation on that - ‘Love on the Nile’, ‘Sally and Lucie on the Nile’ - just sounded silly.
It wasn’t until I wrote the line in the novel that includes the phrase ‘while I am the mistress of nothing’ - very late on in the process - that the title finally arrived. I’m fond of the title, though it gives me a little pang every time I think about how it doesn’t include any words that remind the reader of Egypt.
I put the title into a translation service online just now, and it came out as ‘A Dear in Luxor’. Maybe I should write a sequel to the novel, ‘A Deer in Luxor’, about a pet deer that Sally keeps in her old age. I put the title through the service once again, and it came out as ‘A Love in Luxor’, which I’m sure is closer to what Bloomsbury Berlin intended. Perhaps the word ‘mistress’ does not have the dual meaning in German that it does in English.