Thursday 23 May 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 23/5/2024

The Monocle Minute

UK snap election

British prime minister Rishi Sunak took to the lectern outside a rainy 10 Downing Street yesterday and called a general election for 4 July this year. The outlook for his Conservative Party is decidedly cloudy. Tune in to Monocle Radio throughout the day and to the latest edition of The Monocle Daily for our analysis and insight on what’s next.

The Opinion

Olympics / Josh Fehnert

Paris should be proud to take the Olympic torch but hosting often comes with a hangover

Hosting anything can be a hassle. Whether it’s a dinner party for a few friends or a global sporting shindig for 15 million guests, there will always be bothersome doubts about the efforts involved in putting yourself out there.

This ambivalence – about the bill, nuisance and effort of hosting – has already marked some of the warm-up to the Paris Summer Olympics in July. Some people excitedly seek tickets, train to represent their nation or plan a Parisian sojourn. Others bleat about the bad bits: whether everything will be ready, the costs (the costs!) or the plight of a few curmudgeonly locals who might have to forgo their seat on the Métro for a few weeks.

This being France, there are strikes too. This week, SNCF drivers are seeking bonuses for what promises to be a busy summer. Plus ça change.

But doesn’t all this hand-wringing miss the magic and potential of a great moment for the French capital? The opportunity to polish up the place for guests, get out the good tableware and try a fresh recipe? This is a chance to show off La République’s vast soft-power reserves.

In the out-today June issue of Monocle, we profile seven Olympic hopefuls holding their nations’ hopes on their shapely shoulders (and, in one case, on her surfboard). We also meet the mayor of L’Île-Saint-Denis, Mohamed Gnabaly, to talk about how his neighbourhood stands to gain from the Games and chart Paris’s plans to plant more trees, ease congestion and spiff up arrivals at Paris CDG.

Perhaps Paris will warm to its responsibilities as the festivities unfold. Even the bashful Brits did it in 2012. Authorities are right to count the costs, plan and sweat the legacy but the city needs to loosen up and try to enjoy the prep, be gracious about the things that go awry and expect a hangover. Putting yourself out there is a faff but any good host knows that you tend to get out what you put in. Paris’s prospects? Golden.

Josh Fehnert is Monocle’s editor. Monocle’s art-themed June issue contains an Olympics special, plus plenty on those going for gold in the worlds of hospitality, architecture, culture and fashion.

The Briefings

Image: Getty Images

Defence / Poland

Poland bolsters air defences with new airships

Poland’s defence minister, Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz, signed an agreement with the US yesterday to purchase four reconnaissance airships to monitor the country’s northeastern borders. The deal is part of a $960m (€885m) air-defence programme known as Project Barbara. The moored balloons use radar to detect aircraft over a range of more than 300km.

The move follows several instances of Russian missiles crossing into Polish territory as a result of airstrikes on Ukrainian targets. Poland’s proximity to Belarus and Russia has long put the country on the defensive. Prime minister Donald Tusk announced the new $2.2bn (€2bn) Shield-East programme to fortify the country’s eastern defences earlier this week.

Image: Getty Images

Fashion / UK & USA

Independent fashion brands need a rethink

Two independent fashion brands, New York-based Mara Hoffman and Susie Cave’s UK brand, The Vampire’s Wife, have announced their closure. The details of their imminent shuttering came within 24 hours of each other and are indicative of the economic difficulties facing the fashion industry. This follows news that Serbian-born designer Roksanda Ilincic filed a notice of intent to appoint an administrator; her company was subsequently bought out by The Brand Group.

These labels all had a loyal clientele and distinctive identities yet the current landscape has made some business models unsustainable. For Hoffman, who was committed to using local manufacturers and environmentally friendly materials, it became too expensive to produce high-quality collections. Online retailers have also exacerbated issues by delaying or withholding payments. Cave attributed her brand’s financial struggles, in part, to “upheaval in the wholesale market”. The fact that long-established companies are being affected by these issues highlights the need to rethink fashion’s business models. And in future, labels will need to be more selective when choosing retail partners.

Literature / Brazil

Short books triumph as attention spans dwindle

A new report by Brazilian daily Folha has revealed that dwindling attention spans are having a knock-on effect on literature. Data collected from Nielsen Bookscan, which monitors physical and virtual sales of literary works in Brazil, found that between 2014 and 2023, the percentage of works with more than 400 pages among the 20 best-selling fiction titles of the year went from 47 per cent to almost zero. But the trend isn’t limited to Brazil: according to Massachusetts-based platform WordsRated, books with more than 400 pages have been disappearing from US bestseller lists. Industry voices attending the Publishers Weekly Book Show last month noted that the number of pages in fiction books has become an important selling point. Authors with condensed writing styles are also receiving more recognition, including French writer Annie Ernaux, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2022. Being concise is often a marker of good writing – but it’s worth asking what might be lost when cutting the word count.

Beyond the Headlines

Image: Getty Images

Q&A / Jenny Erpenbeck and Michael Hofmann

Communicating stories through translation

The International Booker Prize was awarded this week for the best work of foreign-language fiction in translation. This year’s winner is Kairos, written by Jenny Erpenbeck and translated by Michael Hofmann. They joined Georgina Godwin on The Globalist to reflect on their victory.

What is the premise of the book?
Jenny Erpenbeck: It’s a story of love and politics that takes place in East Berlin in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The fall of the Berlin Wall is in the background at the beginning of the book but moves into the foreground, where it gets mixed up with a personal story. It explores the difficulties of private relationships, where lies and truth play a big role. These structures are reflected in the political context.

Once your book has been translated into a different language, do you still think of it as your work?
JE: I always think of it as my work. It reads well in translation but it’s still my book, written in Michael’s language.

What does the translation process look like?
Michael Hofmann: It’s a process that has developed over 40 years of translating 20th-century German classics. I quickly make a rough translation and work from the English text. However, translating Kairos, this was difficult. Jenny pointed out that I had left her meaning behind in some places. I had missed or failed to signal repetitions, echoes or leitmotifs. When those were incorporated, we could work on the text together.

How important is the International Booker Prize for translators?
MH: In my acceptance speech last night, I spoke about the invisibility of translators in English. There’s very little tolerance for translation or any separate noise made by translators. The International Booker Prize is vital. For me, it would have been a catastrophe not to win.

Monocle Radio / Monocle on Design

A tropical modernism special

We pay a visit to London’s Victoria & Albert museum, where a new exhibition is dedicated to the architectural style. We also reflect on the work of Sri Lankan practitioner Geoffrey Bawa.


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