Not long ago, I described some examples of an American character in a novel by British author William Boyd who uses Britishisms. The same problem, writ larger, occurs in the new novel Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Ishiguro was born in Japan but moved to England at the age of five and is strongly identified as a British author. Klara and the Sun is a science-fiction novel set in what’s strongly implied, if not outright stated, as the United States. And in a recent interview, the author confirmed that the U.S. was the setting. I enjoyed the book (though not quite as much as Ishiguro’s somewhat similar Never Let Me Go), and I don’t want to give away anything of the plot, so I’ll just say that the narrator is presented as an American.
I’ve learned after all these years that the differences between American and British language are very many and often very subtle, and thus it’s extremely difficult for an American to provide 100% convincing dialogue for a Brit, and vice versa. Klara and the Sun proves the point. Even after Ishiguro’s own efforts, and those of the book’s editors, I found all these Britishisms emanating from American characters:
- “It’s not enough just being clever” (instead of “smart”).
- “… smart-looking” (as opposed to “cool-looking” or “good-looking”).
- “the animal carried on making its noise” (as opposed to “continued” or “went on”).
- “Josie always visited her en suite before retiring to bed” (as opposed to “bathroom.” I’m not sure about “retiring.”)
- “… foldaway chair …” (I assume this is what we would call a “folding chair.”)
- “… these were slightly different to the ones outside our store”( as opposed to “different from” or “different than”).
- “There it was, throwing out Pollution from three funnels the way it had always done.” (Americans would say “the way it always had.”)
- “I want to take Josie out for a coffee and cake” (as opposed to “coffee and cake”).
- “For a while she was keen on a German car…” (as opposed to “had her eye on” or “had her heart set on”).
- “We’ve time to kill” (as opposed to “we have” or “we’ve got”).
- “This turning” (as opposed to “Turn here”).
- “If I’m honest…”
- “Chrissie will come and collect you in half an hour” (as opposed to “pick you up”).
- “… the plastic mineral water bottle” (as opposed to “the plastic water bottle”).
- ” … on the day …”
- “Atlas Brookings [a school] –now Rick no longer wished to go there — was rarely mentioned.” (Americans would insert the word “that” between “now” and “Rick.” This also showed up in the Boyd novel.)
- “hire driver.” (I think that’s the same as “taxi driver” but in any case we don’t say it.)
- “Give that a go, Klara.”
Now, you’ll notice that there are links to NOOBs posts on a number of examples. But except for “give it a go” or (maybe) “a coffee” I don’t think they are common enough in the U.S. for the characters in the book to use them.
Clearly, British novelists need someone to vet the dialogue of their American characters. I am available.