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F-word in the Cathedral

Arkwright Fist samples Margaret Atwood’s trailblazer event for Manchester Literature Festival

Published on September 3rd 2009.

F-word in the Cathedral

Margaret Atwood provided the trailblazer event for the 2009 Manchester Literature Festival (15th - 25th October).

They didn't shy away from some of the more violent passages either: it was unsettling hearing the word ‘fuck’ echoing back from the vaulted roof of this medieval House of God.

She didn’t disappoint either, providing an occasion that was a cut above the usual author reading for a number of reasons. It was housed in Manchester Cathedral, Atwood was supported by three actors and fifteen choristers and the event had easily sold out 600 tickets. This is a few more than the usual 15 aficionados and a dog.

The event commenced with introductions by the Canon and the Lord Mayor. These were followed by the performers filing in from the aisles to the a cappella sounds of a hymn, ‘The Garden’.

This was very fitting as hymns punctuate the well-regarded new novel that Atwood was showcasing. This is The Year of the Flood, a sequel of sorts to her previous bestseller, Oryx and Crake. It's another of her dystopic visions of an uncomfortable future: humanity is laid waste by a pandemic and a vaguely evangelical group called the God's Gardeners attempt to cultivate an ecologically sound plan of survival (rooftop gardens in the main). Ranged against them are the hyper-corporate CorpSeCorps and the savage band known as the Painballers (I can see that name catching on for extreme team-building weekends...).

Narrated by Atwood, with sections performed by the three excellent actors, it was an engaging (if slightly overlong précis) of the main themes of the novel. Kevin Harvey, sonorous and commanding, his voice filling the nave, was exceptional as the leader of the GG's and Samantha Sidall (Mandy Maguire in the last five years of Shameless) was wry and funny as Ren, a dancing trapeze artist from a high end sex club. They didn't shy away from some of the more violent passages either: it was unsettling hearing the word ‘fuck’ echoing back from the vaulted roof of this medieval House of God.

At the end, with a sardonic “you have to buy the book to learn what happens” message from the author, Atwood sat down and signed books for around an hour.

This was a major coup for Manchester Literature Festival. Atwood is a ‘name’, one of the most globally recognised writers around. It underlines how the event has moved on this year, attracting a whole roster of top names, Faye Weldon, Will Self and Jimmy McGovern among them, to illuminate the lives of Mancunian bookworms. Confidential will be revealing more when out preview article goes up on 21 September.

IMAGE COPYRIGHT: Jon Parker Lee Photography Ltd.

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