Monday, 31 May 2010
Hay Round One - Dmitry Bykov and Rachel Trezise
Opening weekend at the Guardian Hay Festival 2010 and the weather on Saturday was pretty desperate. Last year, we’d been blessed with Mediterranean temperatures. The turnout had been fantastic and the vibe superb. I was worried. British weather has always had a crucial part to play in writers’ fortunes. It’s a defining factor in audience numbers. Thankfully, Hay festival-goers are a plucky bunch. The site was packed, books were clutched and spirits were high, even as the rain poured and the wind... Oh how it blowed.
I was here this year to interview the masterful Dmitry Bykov, a legend in his native Russia – brilliant, controversial and a Renaissance man (poet, novelist, playwright, biographer, print and broadcast journalist, social and political commentator) – and the wonderful Welsh novelist Rachel Trezise who, at the tender age of just 32, has garnered acclaim and awards aplenty (among which, the 2006 Dylan Thomas Prize and a place on the Orange Futures List) with work which includes fiction, playwriting and reportage.
Rachel joined me to discuss her remarkable novel set in the Welsh valleys, Sixteen Shades of Crazy, which explores the effects on the lives of three women when they encounter the English stranger in town – sexy, dangerous, drug dealer Johnny. It’s commendable for its razor-sharp wit, its combination of depth and sheer readability, and for its uncompromising take on how women fit into the social economy of deprived areas. Rachel’s experiences on the British toilet circuit with cult Welsh rockers Midasuno – which resulted in her Dial M for Merthyr – had provided the spark of inspiration to look at the flipside. In Sixteen, it’s not the band (The Boobs) that gets the treatment but the ladies in their lives. It’s a book that offers a window on the darker side of life and the inherent dangers of provincialism. As such, the valleys provide a fitting backdrop. But, as Rachel told us, the narrative could apply to so many disenfranchised areas across the UK.
Dmitry talked to me about his Living Souls, an elegant translation by Cathy Porter of his satirical dystopian fiction in the russian, Zh.D. Dmitry was everything I had hoped he would be, and everything his satire had suggested. He told the audience that his novel was much like himself: ‘big and intelligent’. But beyond the humour, Dmitry outlined the seriousness of his purpose. A man against dogma and alert to the dangers of identity and nationalism, and mindful of the warnings – and endless, tragic repetitions – of history. A packed-out audience, dark material and much laughter. Next Sunday, I’ll be back to talk to Trezza Azzopardi and Jon McGregor.
Living Souls by Dmitry Bykov (translated by Cathy Porter) is published by Alma Books. Sixteen Shades of Crazy is published by Blue Door.