When David Mitchell last visited Melbourne in May 2011, a big crowd turned out to see him at the Athenaeum Theatre. The venue this time was Deakin Edge at Federation Square, a modern and edgy space – a startling contrast to the old fashioned charms of the Athenaeum - but an equally large number of fans were present last night.
I managed to get a seat in the front row, as is my wont with music shows, i.e. my favourite spot to be. So my view was unimpeded. I took along the Canon G16 this time and shot some decent photos.
David Mitchell bounced onto the stage greeting the audience with a friendly hello as he took his seat. The topic of discussion was of course his latest novel The Bone Clocks, a mind teaser of a novel that involves several different narratives like his earlier novel Cloud Atlas. The Bone Clocks however has a central character, Holly Sykes, who appears peripherally in the various other character’s stories. There is a supernatural thread running through the novel, and indeed there’s a terrific supernatural battle towards the end. The prose is dazzling and pleasurable to read.
It was an engrossing conversation and David Mitchell presents as charming and unaffected, funny as well. It was thrilling to be present in person at the event, seeing one of my favourite writers in the flesh again.
There was some discussion about whether Mitchell is writing an “uber” novel as in each of his books characters from previous books reappear. There is a scholarly work entitled A Temporary Future: The Fiction of David Mitchell by Patrick O’Donnell, a study of all David Mitchell’s fiction up to The Bone Clocks which explores this idea. I have a copy of it, which I have yet to read in full. It’s somewhat abstruse and hard to read, I must admit, but I’ll persevere with it when I run out of more engaging reading matter.
I had taken along a big bag of books – it weighed a ton – with five Mitchell novels and some of my collection of Jonathan Lethem novels.
One of the disadvantages of sitting in the front row, is getting out of the venue quickly enough to get a forward spot in the book signing queue. It was a long queue and moved fairly slowly, but after hanging on for at least half an hour, I was able to get the rest of my David Mitchell collection signed, and express my appreciation for the care he takes in creating beautiful sentences, which was something he talked about in the session.
It would have been a perfect occasion seeing just David Mitchell, but Jonathan Lethem was the icing on the cake.
His latest novel is Dissident Gardens, a “multigenerational saga of revolutionaries and activists, the civil rights movement and the counterculture, from the 1930s Communists to the 2010s Occupy movement, and is mostly set in Sunnyside Gardens, Queens and in Greenwich Village” from Wikipedia.
I recently read this novel and identified with the period and its leftist sympathies. It took me back to my revolutionary days in the 1960s and 70s.
The two leading characters are Rose Zimmer and her daughter Miriam and their strong personalities are portrayed vividly, Rose in particular. Jonathan Lethem said in the discussion that Rose was based on his Communist grandmother and Miriam on his activist mother, who died when he was 13 years old.
His novel The Fortress of Solitude is semi autobiographical, set as it is in Brooklyn, where Jonathan Lethem lived as a child.
He had an unconventional bohemian childhood and originally wanted to be an artist like his father. However, from an early age he steeped himself in counterculture falling in love with books and music of all genres, and spent 12 years working in second hand bookstores whilst writing his early novels. He said he loved old battered second hand books and unfashionable writers of whom nobody, these days, has heard.
Not as many people attended the Jonathan Lethem event, so the signing queue was shorter. Jonathan was friendly and pleasant in person, and obligingly signed the six novels I’d brought along, remarking on my old paperback copies of his first two books. He’d be pleased to know that three of the novels I took along were second hand copies.
The four literary events that I have attended in the last week, were all different and interesting, from the old school literati of Claire Tomalin and Michael Frayn, to the young bloods of the Internet age in the persons of David Mitchell and Jonathan Lethem, they were more than worth the cost of entry.
I hope to attend more in the future.