The Humber Mouth - Hull Literature Festival 2000 - Thursday 9th November - Sunday 19th November 2000
Critical Eye

Thursday 16th November - 8.00pm Review Hull Truck Theatre
Critical Eye Louis de Bernieres

When the Humber Mouth was still at the planning stage, several names were put forward for prose events, de Bernieres among them. Although he didn't quite fit the brief for outspokenness and innovation, his popularity and the affection with which his work is viewed made him an irresistible choice. Again hoping to broaden the scope of the festival, organizers took the risk of arranging the prose reading at the main venue, Hull Truck, in spite of there being no established audience for this kind of event in Hull. On the night, de Bernieres read to over 100 people, again some new to the festival. I had expected a bigger turnout, but perhaps the fact that there were several other events on the same night contributed to the relatively small attendance.

De Bernieres gave the audience a reading of two stories, one each side of the interval. Standing in a spotlight centre-stage, the stories were delivered deadpan by de Bernieres, who immediately created a sense of rapport with audience. De Bernieres is a master of pace, and only rarely digressed from the text he was reading. Depending for effect on the growing absurdity of the narratives, de Bernieres presented a persona which was charming and subtly mocking, his targets being pomposity, pride, and the desperate absurdity of ordinary lives. De Bernieres' work has an edge of which I was unaware, and hearing him read made it clear to me why his books have been so successful. At times almost painfully funny, de Bernieres combines wit with pathos in a manner which is unusual among contemporary novelists.

De Bernieres opened his set with the news that he'd only visited Hull once before, in search of spares for a Russian motorbike many years ago. Having driven his bike from the south on that occasion, he commented that it had taken him longer this time to make the journey by train from Doncaster. I hope this experience doesn't put him off visiting Hull again in future.

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Maggie Hannan is the festival's resident web site critic.
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