MLF: Sex and the Cities

My last volunteer event for this year’s Manchester Literature Festival was the Sex and the Cities reading and discussion with Noémi Szécsi, Grażyna Plebanek and Anjali Joseph.

Of the reviews of their respective novels, Anjali’s Another Country comes in for the most criticism for its lack of character development, which was touched on in the discussion. She talked about not being content with the traditional trajectory of a coming of age novel, where development comes in stages 1, 2 and 3. She called this a Hollywood myth, and her character’s moving from city to city seems to invoke the displacement of self no matter what your surroundings. My favourite quote from her: ‘We are alien and slightly strange to ourselves sometimes’.

Grażyna’s novel Illegal Liaisons is a love triangle between a married man, his wife and mistress, told from his perspective. A writer’s exercise she used to explore writing from male perspective was sitting on a bench with a male friend and asking him to comment aloud on the women passing. She said this helped her create a male vocabulary and also a male world viewpoint. The scene she read from the novel was quite sexual, and she read it with real poise. Favourite quote: ‘I was trying to evoke the dignity of the body, we have only medical or vulgar language for the body.’

Hungarian author Noémi spoke about her novel The Finno-Ugrian Vampireher reading had a lot of humour and some great irony with this conflict between modern life and the romantic, idealised version of vampires that we equate with literature. She says she doesn’t enjoy vampire fiction in general, but was interested by Bram Stoker’s original Dracula. My favourite part of listening to her was her equation between ‘sucking blood and sexual initiation’, and the character struggling with both!

All novels seemed to deal with tradition by stepping outside it and then looking back towards it from a new angle, a fresh perspective. I was really happy to attend and sad that there are only three full days of festival goodness left. And here I am, going back to the beginning when I said I’d help out with the outfit wearing part of MLF marketing…

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