Coming out of the fog

LtNebelLiteratur im Nebel (Fog-lit?) has been held every year for nine years now in the tiny town of Heidenreichstein in Austria´s Waldviertel in Lower Austria. The town has a population of about 4,000 and is about 15 Km from the Czech border. It´s been around since about the 12th Century and apart from an old castle and a nature reserve has little claim to fame except for the wonderful almost secret lit-fest tip, Literatur im Nebel, which I discovered for the first time on the September 27/28 weekend with not a wisp of fog in sight.

This year´s guest was IanMcEwan. (Previous guests included Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie). The weekend was dedicated to the works of Ian McEwan with well-known Austrian actors reading excerpts from nearly all his novels. Actors included Erwin Steinhauer, Tobias Moretti, Manuel Rubey, Nicole Beutler and several others. There were discussions with McEwan on both days with consecutive interpretation into German, and on Sunday, a discussion between McEwan and Daniel Kehlmann including a focus on Black Dogs which I am currently reading; late on the Sunday night McEwan read in English from The Children Act and Christiane von Poelnitz read from the yet to be published German translation of the novel.

I took a shuttle bus from Vienna at 2pm each day, arriving at 4pm in time for the start at 5pm. The sessions were over at around 10.30 pm and arrival in Vienna was long after midnight. Tickets for each day were 15 Euros and the one-way shuttle bus was 10 Euros. So, for 70 Euros (taking along a sandwich and drink) I had one of the most amazing literary weekends. Here, in the middle of nowhere 700 persons were hanging on every word two nights in a row, despite bottoms almost becoming numb in the three and two-hour sessions.

Books were on sale and I at last picked up the short story collections, In Between theSheets and First Love, First Rites. I had only stumbled on McEwan last year on a holiday in Hastings where I picked up a pre-loved copy of Atonement and a new copy of Sweet Tooth. Since then I have been reading Black Dogs and have  The Innocent on my tbr pile. I usually don´t buy books when they come out and prefer to discover them when the hype has faded. But I am now hooked on this writer who sat through all the readings in German over both days, signed hundreds of books and was so gracious.

I have few photos from the weekend and only some notes, too engrossed was I in what was being read and said. But here are some snippets: the guest writers receive a very special and very different honorarium, namely a tree planted in Heidenreichstein. McEwan´s was a fig tree. Some words from McEwan that I took down and in: we need rationality, but we also need more feeling – compassion, empathy, emotional involvement; it´s not always right to be correct; novels are investigations; it´s not for the author to answer questions; the problem of evil is one of interpretation, if you don´t believe in the supernatural, it´s difficult to believe in evil; no people, no evil; the heavy hand of modernism; the search for narrative ways to reflect the stifling consciousness as we move from through the 21st Century; we need Proust and Joyce, but we also need Balzac, Austen, Dickens and Tolstoy; the spring to curiosity which is narrative; the shifting centre of narrative; we need all we have learnt; building a narrative around your own past, but when you see the details, it´s all lies; the importance of details; it´s harder to defend what we have; examine the human condition its current modernity with all its threats and promises; hiking empties the mind; is fission the answer?

On purpose, I have left the above as fragments. They are to make me think. They are to make me see both sides. These fragments, the whole weekend, the book I also bought, Conversations with IanMcEwan (ed. Ryan Roberts), the reading of Black Dogs, all this has served to ignite something for my own work. I am grateful to serendipity and to Literatur im Nebel which has succeeded in drawing me out of my own fog. And thank you, Ian McEwan!

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