Monday, June 26, 2006

Captain de Bernieres Mandolin...

So, I'm in the marketing department at Vintage, and I'm thinking, how can we shift copies of Birds Without Wings and, at the same time, rid the warehouse of several thousand 300th edition Captain Corelli's? I know, we'll bung de Bernieres on a tour of the country and he can play a mandolin to them. Fuck off, says the boss, that's just ridiculous.
Except, this isn't an exercise in ludicrous marketing, Louis de Bernieres is sat just four rows of seats away from me, he's not only got a mandolin but a classical guitar, a banjo, a clarinet and assorted other instruments, and, accompanied by Iione Antonius-Jones on the shiny silver flute, he's about to belt out some olde finger plucking tunes and read us poetry ranging from Andrew Marvell to William McGonagall. De Bernieres returned to the mandolin, he tells us, when he was writing "that book" and "forgot to give it up again".
Some people at the Central Library in Hull are baffled by this musical takeover of the arts and literature section. I see one woman in the biography section mouthing, Les Dawson style, "who is it?" and, at one point, a small child wearing a baseball cap peers through a stack of books behind the main man to see what all the noise is about.
It's a bizarre event to be at, I'll say that. A best-selling Norfolk-based novelist reading some prose he penned when he "lived down a working class street in London", where the neighbours all smoked, owned horses, talked in Cockerney rhyming slang and retaliated when the council put down "parking markings". More amusing given that a host of councillor sorts had delayed the start of the event a bit by showing their faces as part, I think, of a guided tour.
Prior to the show I watched de Bernieres eat a banana, which I initially thought might be the opening number given how these literary events often take a turn for the pretentious and absurd. But no, he was just stockpiling up on the energy required to blast a tune out of a clarinet. He's not a bad musician and he made me laugh a couple of times. We shook his hand at the end, while others clamoured for the light buffet included in the free admission. My words of wisdom back to the understandably sweaty Mr de Bernieres? "Marvellous".

Reading: Douglas Coupland - JPod. Listening: Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint: The River in Reverse.

No comments: