I am in Vancouver for a week at the Vancouver International Writers & Readers Festival, staying at the lovely Sylvia Hotel on English Bay. The weather on Tuesday was gloriously sunny, so my companions and I spent the day walking in Stanley Park before attending the Grand Openings event on Granville Island last night. The lineup of seven authors was stellar, as is usual at this festival, but Cate Kennedy and Helen Oyeyemi were the authors I was most excited to hear.
Kennedy read from two new books, including a heartbreaking excerpt from the novel The World Beneath, about a woman with Alzheimer's, in which her husband and son collude in denying her alcoholism to a doctor. Kennedy chose a poem (from A Taste of River Water) that was a story in itself, and she mentioned that her poems are always like that. I’d love to hear more, but I think that book will be hard to find in Canada. I looked at The World Beneath at the festival bookstore and was horrified to read one of the quotes on the back (from Library Journal) comparing her writing to Jodi Picoult! If you dislike Picoult’s style as much as I do, believe me that Kennedy is nothing like that. She makes keen observations about human interactions and chooses her words carefully. (See my review of Dark Roots.) It was too bad that the festival bookstore didn't have many copies of Kennedy's books available, because the supply had already run out by the intermission.
I’m halfway through Oyeyemi’s Mr. Fox at the moment – enjoying it very much – and can attest that it is even more delightful to hear it read aloud. The narrative is a sly twist on Bluebeard in which an author meets his match in a character come to life. (See also my review of The Icarus Girl.)
Dermot Healy told us he would speak slowly on account of his Irish accent. He read a very funny part from Long Time, No See about an infestation of ghost chickens.
David Bezmozgis also made me chuckle. He read about a Russian Jewish refugee worker in Italy who had a special talent – that of finding suitable places to copulate – in The Free World.
Guy Vanderhaeghe seemed nervous and spent a lot of time setting the scene for A Good Man. His excerpt, about Sitting Bull arriving one evening into a Sioux camp after defeating Custer, could have stood on its own. It reminded me of Fools Crow by James Welch. Based on my enjoyment of The Englishman’s Boy and The Last Crossing (as well as Welch’s book), I’ll add Vanderhaeghe’s new book to my TBR pile.
Madeleine Thien’s Dogs at the Perimeter is about genocide in Cambodia, so it was considerate of her to read from a side story in that novel. She said her account of an artist who was losing language because of a neurological disorder was based on a woman from North Vancouver.
Lloyd Jones told us about a blind German man who lives with a companion from New Zealand and a nurse from Tunisia. I’ve really enjoyed a couple of his earlier novels (Mister Pip and The Book of Fame) and will give this new one (Hand Me Down World) a chance too, but either the part he chose wasn't particularly compelling or I was just too tired to take in the last reading of the evening.