I arrived in time to stand in a long line waiting to claim their general seating seat. I loitered by the display cases filled with the bright colors of Lego-artwork created by local artists in honor of the theme of the book festival this reading was a part of, "SuperDanish." With the help of the stranger standing in line behind me, we contemplated what the writers reading that evening had in common with Denmark. The Danish writer, that was easy. Fforde's most recent novel involves Denmark in various significant, if not central, ways. But the third writer? Neither of us had heard of him.
I snagged myself a good seat, right in front of the lectern meant for the speakers, but a few tables back, since chairs there were both available and not so close as to invoke neck strain. The front half of the room was equipped with white linen-clad tables, candles in glass holders flickering on top of them. The back half of the room held rather more prosaic rows of chairs. My table companion was congenial, a Jane Austen enthusiast working disconsolately in marketing. We chattered through waitin for the reading to begin, through the intermission, and for a while after the event was over. Hopefully, I'll be hearing from her (and my once-anonymous Toronto Events commenter) to know how tonight's interview with Fforde went in the near future!
By the time the "third writer" came out first, I'd read the program and had a much better idea of who he was. Koji Suzuki is the author of The Ring, the book on which both the Japanese and the English-language version is based on. Knowing he was a horror author, I was rather nervous about the reading. I don't want any indelibly disturbing images implanted in my imagination by a wayward horrific phrase if I can help it. Suzuki introduced his latest work, a collection of short stories named Dark Waters, in passable English, but they'd hired an actor to read the story aloud. He read swiftly, but clearly, swiftly enough that it took my ears a while to feel comfortable with the speed.
It was the sort of story which is entirely ambiguous as it progresses. Will it be a horror story? Does it have a happy ending? Is it a ghost story? With the sweetness of sunshine, flowers, and healing give way to sudden disaster? But all was right with the world. To my relief, it had a mostly happy ending, and my mind was filled with images of ocean waves awash with sunlight.
Per Helge Sørensen was our Danish author of the evening. The biggest tragedy of his reading is that his books are not yet available in English so we must wait to read them. Sørensen was young and enthusiastic. His first book, Mailstorm, came out in 2000. It's a political thriller about encryption and internet surveillance. His tour was to promote his newest book, Spin. His English was perfect, so he well could have been the person who had translated his own excerpts into English for the reading. Whoever did it, no matter. He was at home with the words.
And his words were hilarious. Much of his humor derives from sudden contrasts, from unexpected changes of situation, from the awkwardness of human relationships, confusions, regrets, and furtive combats. The book's about governmental crackdown on child pornography, the hapless young man who gets caught up in the crackdown, and the career of a politically-aspiring junior governmental minister whose political survival becomes entangled in the porn case. His language was a little too explicit at times for my taste. It wasn't too bad in a few excerpted readings because of the contrasts. A disturbing image would be immediately contrasted by the mundane intruding on the awkward. I hope his work in translated into English, but I suspect I would feel more comfortable with his first novel than his second.
Most of the audience was there to hear Jasper Fforde read. The half-dozen people I talked to throughout the evening certainly were. The length of autograph-signing lines were too. And so the organizers saved Fforde until after intermission and the two (rather unexpected) door prizes, a Canadian OED and $500 worth of books. Then he came on, with all the comfort of audience relations that twenty years as a television executive must surely help with.
Thanks to lazyknight, I'd read Something Rotten, Fforde's latest book, only two weeks earlier, so the language was fresh in my brain. He read from the talk-show section, Evade the Question Time, editing as he went. (He showed us the marked up page in his book as he reduced wordy dialog, however already published it was.) He read the bit where Hamlet comes back from the theatre, and briefly finished with "To be or not to be" in reverse, a much more effective exercise orally than it was on the page. He was funny, engaging, and as full of asides as The Well of Lost Plots was full of footnoterphone use.
As I stood at the very back of the autograph line, I chatted with a fascinating woman, divorce lawyer, early music fan, and enthusiast of an intriguing workout routine called BodyFlow. Originating in New Zealand, it's a combination of tai-chi, pilates, and yoga. She'd spent a bit of time in Harrogate (UK) in her youth, and so was particularly happy in relating to the Britishness of the books.
I thank Jasper Fforde for writing the books. As a way of edging around the question of just how final the ending of Something Rotten read, I asked him if there would be more. "There will be", he assured, "if you'll keep buying them." Bargain sealed, i walked away with a second Fforde-signed book and a postcard of one of the Seven Wonders of Swindon.
It was an entirely good evening.