Review: Will Self In Conversation, York Literature Festival
Venue: York St John University Temple Hall, March 20, 2013
My Dad warned me that Will Self was a “weird bloke” so I was actually quite nervous when I found we had second row seats. I thought the intensity was going to be too much. Thankfully he was funny and interesting, only alluding to a hint of darkness here and there.
Temple Hall was packed, busier than I ever saw it in my years of study at York St John anyway, apart from of course on those nights fuelled by copious amounts of alcohol. This evening, a conversation between Will Self and festival organiser Miles Salter was slightly more high brow than any of my university adventures.
Self started with a reading from his latest book, Umbrella, and I felt hugely out of my depth. Seriously, I still couldn’t tell you what that passage was about, all I recall is he did a variety of voices, his descriptions made us laugh, and I couldn’t believe he wasn’t more of an introvert.
Following the reading, Miles asked him some questions. They weren’t particularly probing, but opened him up to give some interesting answers. Initially Self seemed to launch a bit of an attack on Miles which was uncomfortable, but he soon eased up.
This being a literature festival, Miles focused his questions on his literary career, occasionally indulging him with a question about his hatred for Tony Blair. I learnt that he has a disdain for speech marks and chapters. If I struggled to figure out what was going on when Self read his novel aloud, I’d never manage with the print.
When the audience were invited to participate, the subject made a sharp turn for religion and politics. He spoke about atheism, and how it’s directly linked to Christianity because you don’t hear atheists trying to disprove the existence of Ganesh or Buddha do you? And that’s why he and Christopher Hitchens weren’t that close. He spoke affectionately and eloquently about his friends. I’d like a friend like Will Self, someone I could trust to write me a wonderful epitaph.
Finally an excitable woman at the back asked about his views on the ever-rising university fees. I cowered in my seat, as the students he described with contempt were me. The ones with a sense of entitlement… Well, I’m the product of a Labour government, and I blame everything on Tony Blair.
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