My partner and I spent a wonderful weekend enjoying the Festival’s hotel break at the City Inn. Located next to Piccadilly station it proved to be a perfect base for the various events we attended. Our first was in the Friends Meeting House to hear Howard Jacobson read from his novel Kalooki Nights. This he did with gusto, though not without first weighing up the sensitivity of his audience to some of his stronger images, tongue firmly in cheek. Then followed a discussion on contemporary orthodoxy in Judaism and other religions around Manchester. This gave us plenty to think about as we wandered back past the first shift of night clubbers and the colourful array of wigs and spangled gowns along Canal Street to our welcoming bedroom.
The following day we enjoyed readings from Gerard Woodward and Adam Thorpe in the peaceful setting of St Anne’s Church at odds with the bustling food stalls outside. Both readings contained perceptive accounts of men trying to gain understanding of themselves in unfamiliar or skewed surroundings. Question and answers brought up the topic of autobiographical details filtering into their fiction that both authors readily admitted to.
Next a short journey down to the Whitworth Gallery with some time to explore the exhibitions before the next speaker. This was the charmingly loquacious Roddy Doyle who took the audience on a brisk journey through a delightful montage of one family’s head on experience with the increasingly diverse ethnic mix of today’s Ireland.
A glass of wine and a chance to assimilate all the ideas and discussions we had heard so far as we waited for Maggie O’Farrell and Anne Enright. As the room filled with an expectant audience and the lights dimmed, all eyes were on these two ladies. After a long and inspiring day we sat back to savour their stories. Anne started with a domestic scene from The Gathering that combined pathos, anger and humour in equal measure, along with the frustration of family life that most of us regularly experience.
Maggie’s excerpts from The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox gave us an atmospheric glimpse of colonial India from a child’s point of view, followed by her haunting frankness after lengthy incarceration in a mental institution. Both authors read beautifully, conjuring up a disturbing bedtime story heard in the comfort of one’s own bed. What a perfect way to end our stay.
- Claire Yates