St Canice's Cathedral is old and grey. It has that air of being on the edge of crumbling, which makes you wonder, before you notice the solid wood carvings on the entrance door of anglican nature or proceed inside to see the Mother's Union display, if this isn't a little church of Ireland church that was long ago made to be grand. And when you sit down on your narrow pew with its anciently faded velvet, you never want to leave! It might be the pretty lengths of pink ribbon that fasten "seat" numbers at your back. It might be the brightness that defies the gathering dusk and sails through the stained glass that has white-now-off-white background panes. It will certainly be the unhewn stones that build the walls, without any need of the slick fine arches that pepper the sides.
Last year I booked to hear Colm Toibin and Peter Murphy. They were dazzling. The setting was too. But once they took the stage your mind was on nothing else. Toibin was the outgoing curator of the literary strand and his introduction was already erudite, yet then came Brooklyn, then came John the Revelator, then came the authors discussing their themes between them, and only finally did the questions come and the answers too, and it was good.
Hugo Hamilton writes from a perspective that is one of my favourite themes in contemporary novels- immigration. His style is journalistic, you can hear him below, and the insightfulness of his prose comes laterally. The bemusement of Vid, the narrator in Hand in the Fire, is the vehicle for the telling of Concannon Family's tale and colours then the illustration of Irish society. Hamilton seemed jolly, and pleased to be there in St Canice's, which pleased me as I was so charmed!
With no further ado the formidable John Banville presided. Reading not at all from The Infirmities but from a work in progress. Oh we all felt very imporatant. He criticised the lighting and the flowers. And he read a scene- you can hear it below. And his prose was mighty. The style with which that man can write filled that place with the authority of an accomplished and established figure. But he was not jolly, and evidently not pleased to be there. He was contrary, and I think he despised us all!
And I wished so much that I had read both books before the event. I'm falling into the habit of buying the books when we arrive in town. But I so wanted to ask both of them if they felt Hand and Infirmities were linked by the eye they both cast on the internal workings of family, if Vid the Observer is like Banville's mischievous gods. I strongly wanted to know if Banville's descent into bawdiness was a conscious path after The Sea. But I didn't, despite the fact that the questions asked were actually so poor that I despised us all too!
Thankfully St Canice's didn't seem to care. She welcomed Hamilton and Banville alike. And when I could finally bear to leave her, I still had the imprint of light that had filled me up during the long minutes of standing staring before they started to usher in the next event.
(Competition winners coming soon- still time to enter!)