The big news from Day 5 is that the sun was still shining – not quite as brilliantly as on days 1 and 2, it is true, and it rained a little but not enough to warrant getting the raincoat out or to deter the birds. Prince Albert, who presides majestically over proceedings in the garden, continued to be subjected to a seagull’s cheek.
The day began in the Spiegeltent/Moulin Rouge with Jon McGregor and perhaps the best author introduction I’ve ever heard. “Jon McGregor prefers to be an anonymous recluse, spreading misinformation and lies about himself as the only thing that matters is his body of work.” As you know, I was less than convinced about his writing, Even the Dogs not one of my favourite reads of the year so far and I found the first novel, unfinishable. Yet I came out of the event contemplating a reread of Even the Dogs as the thought behind its craft became more evident. McGregor read perhaps the most powerful passage – the absolute crux of the novel – dead centre pages 114 – 120 – the journey of the product from flower in Afghanistan to its seedy final destination, a UK telephone box and an addict’s vein.
I was very surprised at the chair’s and the author’s insistence that the book is not depressing. An addict’s life is too resourceful and creative for that. I remain unconvinced – this novel will continues to live on the virtual bookshelf next to Jude the Obscure.
A quick dash across the square – from the Moulin Rouge to the main theatre – and the delights of A L Kennedy who read a passage from her work-in-progress. A witty, charming, honest, cynical, sad and heart-warming passage about falling in love. Yes really, all those things, all at once. She would not divulge the name of the novel but she did say that she likes to test her unpublished work in public readings to see if what she has written is well-crafted and understandable. If she comes across a passage that is ugly, that she doesn’t want to read aloud, she will change it. Interestingly she cannot bear to read her earlier work. Recently she read one of her early stories to a group of university students. The rhythm was so chopped up, she said, she felt like gagging! No mention of the name of that story either!
Tucked away in a leafy corner of Charlotte Square is the smallest venue, The Writer’s Retreat. I think it seats about 60. I had the feeling that my next event had been misplaced; that many, many more readers would have happily purchased tickets for an opportunity to listen to the legendary Alberto Manguel and a new literary star, Miguel Syjuco, whose Ilustrado lifted the inaugural Asian Man Booker Prize. Ilustrado and Manguel’s new novel, All Men are Liars have so many points of comparison that this was an obvious pairing. Summarised by the chair, Stuart Kelly, as two of the liveliest novels with dead authors, they also feature characters named after themselves – a device, Syjuco explained to further blur the lines between fact and fiction. Manguel goes much further – his fictional Manguel is described as an “arsehole” by another character in the book. Well, there we can identify misinformation and lies. Manguel displayed such sincere generosity when talking of Syjuco’s book, at one point uttering the “masterpiece” word. Neither author cared for the post-modernist label. Syjuco said he set out simply to write a book he would want to read and to make it as good as he could. Manguel said that the only use the label had was to justify professors holding courses on it!
The audience held its breathe when Manguel, a prolific reader with a personal library of over 30,000 books, was asked to name the one book he would want if stranded on a desert island. Without a thought, he replied “a shipbuilding manual”. His serious response – Dante’s Camelia or perhaps Alice In Wonderland. Syjuco cheated opting for an e-book with a huge memory.
In the book-signing queue, I admitted to Syjuco that I was a little afraid of his book. You know, he said, David Foster Wallace was convinced that readers are more intelligent than they think they are.
And so the day came full circle. Jon McGregor began the day eulogising about David Foster Wallace’s short stories and essays. Yet another reading trail to be picked up once the festival is over.