Friday: a Stadthaus reading by JM Coetzee as part of the Zürich Liest (Zürich Reads) event.
Coetzee rarely gives interviews, but when he does … his opinions on music and structure, his regard for poetry, his intellect, his stance on animal rights, his cultural and literary allegiances, his modesty and refusal to be a mouthpiece for what he supposedly represents … all this would combine to make him a person I greatly respect. As for his writing, suffice it to say, he’s on my top shelf. There is no greater praise – Booker Schmooker.
On Friday night, he read The Old Woman and the Cats, an extract from Elizabeth Costello. A man in dialogue with his mother; he conscious of external perception, she focused on internal interpretation. The piece talks about life and the right to it. Should the plague of feral cats be exterminated? Should they be neutered, human beings acting as gatekeepers to the world? Who has the right to choose which souls may enter? The mother wishes she’d had more children, the son is glad she did not. And then there’s the issue of the man in the kitchen.
It’s sharp, it’s funny, it’s uncomfortable. He’s read this before – it shows. His voice, with the clipped precise diction I associate with British RP, echoes around the arches, murals and galleries, apparently hypnotising the audience. No one shifts, coughs or even takes a picture for forty minutes.People laugh in the right places and nod often. The applause shows I’m not the only one who thinks his words speak to me personally. An intriguing individual and an incredible writer. I go home happy. And think about souls, dead and alive.
Saturday: booklovers, writers, readers and the generally wordy hook up for drinks and chats and a sharing of ideas in a whisky bar. From Panama, California, Portugal, Chicago, Potsdam, Canada and Powys, I meet some amazing people with huge concepts: historical fiction, screenplays, bilingual poetry, fantasy and sci-fi, travel books, contemporary lit-fic and memoir. Even the waiters are eavesdropping.
Afterwards, we wander down to our lovely bookshop, Orell Füssli, to be greeted by a Master of Ceremonies. Standing on the threshold in black cloak and top hat, he reads an opening section to Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, before welcoming us into a world of ghost stories, magic, sparkling red punch, a special selection of books, spiced cakes and all the staff dressed in black, red and white. Beautiful, inclusive and fun; it’s a lovely way to celebrate characters, who live in only one dimension – our imaginations.
Sunday: I’ve been reading Kimi’s Secret (there’s more to life than you think), watching The Shining (scares me to death every time) and killing off one of my own characters (that’s life). I look out onto the cemetery and watch happy, chattering families bringing balloons and flowers and sweets to lay on the gravestones.
Celebrating life, making the most of death and accepting the in-between.
That’s my kind of Hallowe’en.
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