Friday, November 27, 2009

Susan Richards & David Szalay - The Russian evening


Wednesday saw the latest in our visiting writers' series at The Philip Larkin Centre. This was our first with two speakers sharing an 'in conversation' platform. Susan Richards has hit the road for more than two decades in what is an ongoing pilgrimage into the lives and soul of Russia, recorded in her latest book Lost and Found in Russia. David Szalay gave himself a real challenge for his novel The Innocent, researching his way into the heart and mind of an MGB officer in the Soviet system, a historical novel set in the Russia of 1948 and 1972.
This was branching out from standard fare for the Centre, which has majored on poetry readings in the past. Creative writing reaches across all subject areas in a university, and I want to reflect that wide spread of interests - stimulating ideas matched with great narrative delivery. Both books achieve that. I selected them from a run of fine reviews this summer, thinking it would be interesting to see how fiction and nonfiction covered the same territory. It was encouraging to read both books and see how well they sat together.
It would have bee possible to focus on the political aspects of both books (Susan edits open democracy Russia - pending the podcast of our own evening you can listen to her discussing the book there). Indeed it would have been possible for me to just sit back and see where David and Susan chose to take the conversation, so articulate and engaged were they. My own interests showed through though - the intriguing mystical quest that grows ever stronger in Susan's account, and the moral questioning of western values in David's novel.
I'm loving these opportunities to meet terrific writers and share them with an audience (and with you when our podcasts become available). I'm surprised how keyed up they leave me though ... asleep around 12.30, popping awake three hours later.
Next up is Hilary Mantel, and then we hit the road in January for our first 'Larkin About' event - a celebration of the novelist Francis King and his new novel Cold Snap, at the London Review Bookshop on January 21st.

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