I haven’t been able to get to much on the Edinburgh International Book Festival this year, for reasons. After seeing Tariq Ali discuss Lenin, I managed to miss Stuart Cosgrove returning to the subject of Detroit ’67, and 404 Ink marking their epochal Nasty Women with Nadine Aisha Jassat, Joelle Owusu & Laura Waddell.
And I missed Limmy, too. 😭
But I did manage to catch Paul Auster talking about his new novel, 4 3 2 1. Making my way to Charlotte Square for the event, I tried to stop my mind whirring uncontrollably at the prospect by tuning in to the BBC Radio news.
This was just a day after the van attack on pedestrians in La Rambla, so of course that was the lead item on the news. Except it wasn’t. The lead item was the death of Bruce Forsyth, the English presenter, actor, comedian, singer, dancer, and screenwriter whose career spanned more than 75 years.
What was particularly strange, though, was the way in which the La Rambla item was then covered – twenty-four hours later, still in a breathless present tense.
It’s five in the afternoon yesterday when a white Fiat van veers off the road and into a crowd…. The driver continues down the pedestrian boulevard for over 500 metres before stopping…. People on Las Ramblas run for safety into local shops.
Yet, in a story that was taking place as PM went to air, two people had been killed in the southwest Finnish city of Turku, and at least six injured; one suspect has been shot and arrested.
Now, I’m not suggesting that there was anything sinister in the contrasting ways these stories were reported – other than a reporter having the time to sex up death in the former report in a way that jarred with the usually conservative way Radio 4 reports the news.
By the time I arrived at the west end of Edinburgh’s New Town, I was thoroughly discombobulated. I could swear that Shaun Ley trailed Any Questions in the aftermath of the La Rambla incident and during the developing Turku story as follows:
We’re kind of contemplating how our audience is going to be feeling tonight with the news of Sir Bruce Forsyth’s death and whether some Generation Game or Strictly Dunkirk [sic]… Come Dancing question will slip in.
Because he did.
Shaun Ley having a Dunkirk
I mean, I’m the last guy to suggest that the death of a cultural figure should be ignored in the face of More Important Matters. When they returned from the headlines, I fully expected Carolyn Quinn to report from the future as every city in the world suffered simultaneous terror attacks. In the present tense. Before segueing into an Ant & Dec retrospective.
After all that, a couple of extracts from 4 3 2 1 were the most levelheaded, commonsensical things I’d heard all night.
From [a] single beginning, Archie Ferguson’s life will take four simultaneous and independent fictional paths. Four Fergusons made of the same genetic material, four boys who are the same boy, will go on to lead four parallel and entirely different lives.
And as Auster spoke about growing up in the tri-state area and the New Jersey police beating up black men and the Nixon years and the Trump years and Trump as King Ubu and American troops abroad and a character called Ferguson and a place called Ferguson, 2017 Book Festival Ricky Monahan Brown felt connected to the Richard Brown who checked The Music of Chance and The New York Trilogy out of the Edinburgh City Libraries as a boy and the Ricky Brown who missed seeing Auster at the 92nd Street Y when he was working all the hours god gave in Midtown and the guy who lay in the Hospital for Joint Diseases with a stroke and people in Newark and Missouri and Paris and 1896 and 1974 and 1967.
[End note: I had never heard of Alfred Jarry’s 1896 play Ubu Roi until Paul Auster tossed the titular character into conversation as the most apposite literary reference point for Trump. Now, after consulting Ian Wiki about Jarry and Ubu, I’m none the wiser but definitely intrigued…]