But let’s go back to ‘voilà de la commedia dell’arte’. Would I need a note or a glossary entry in my novel, which is going to be read by non-Italian speakers (since I wrote it in English it’s difficult to avoid)?
Jonathan Beckman in The Guardian’s Book Blog, writes about Howard Jacobson’s “The Finkler Question” (the book has won the Booker Prize this year):
Jacobson is not alone in his reliance on cliché. It occurs in so much fiction about ethnic cultures, whether set in South Asia, the Far East, North Africa or elsewhere: the sprawling, bickering families; the cooking smells; the riots of colour; mangoes, bloody mangoes. Publishers seem to encourage novelists to produce guidebooks (as long as they don't upset too many preconceptions) rather than works of literature. Such works are easily identified by the pile-up of italicised foreign words coupled to their translations. (Want to know what a feygeleh is? Turn to p160 of “The Finkler
Question”. How about a mamzer? It's on p174) It's a shame when a novel aspires to be a glossary. Critics – especially metropolitan ones – must be more sceptical when they find such books confirming what they think they already know.
Not having glossaries keeps the thrill of exploring another culture, of trying to understand it without mediations. In my opinion, something can be gained also by not having glossaries.