Erica Wagner The Times Literary Supplement
October 16 2010 12:01AM
if you had your ear pressed to the door you would have thought that whoever was on stage was doing stand-up comedy
Just occasionally, if you’re lucky, there are moments in life when it all comes together. You know what I mean — when the ideas you have, the sense you possess of the way that things ought to be, somehow, seem vindicated. Not because you’re proved “right” in any particular way — I put that word in quotation marks to serve as a kind of punctuatory quarantine — but because the world around you seems to chime, ring true.
I’ve had one of those weeks, I’m glad to say. It started last Saturday when I sat on stage at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham with Sir Salman Rushdie. If you’re at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival this weekend, you’ll see that I’m doing quite a few events, but Sir Salman’s was my first this year; there’s always the question of getting into the groove, and I was a little nervous. I needn’t have been. Maybe you’ve got the idea that Rushdie’s a terribly serious chap, but if you had been outside the theatre with your ear pressed to the door you would have thought that whoever was on stage was doing stand-up comedy. Rushdie and I, and the audience — armed with plenty of good questions — weren’t being frivolous, however: there was an aspect of laughter in the dark as Rushdie joked about his time in hiding after The Satanic Verses, which, he acknowledged, wasn’t funny at the time.
He was a bit more serious in answering a question regarding the definition of his work as “magical realism”. He distanced himself, to a certain degree, from the term, pointing out that it is more correctly applied to South American novelists such as Gabriel García Márquez. But all this came in the context of a discussion of his latest book, Luka and the Fire of Life, which was written for his 13-year-old son, Milan, and follows the path of its predecessor, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by telling a fantastical, and yet entirely emotionally believable, tale about a storyteller and his son. And as Rushdie writes, “Man is the Storytelling Animal … stories are his identity, his meaning and his lifeblood. Do rats tell tales? Do porpoises have narrative purposes? Do elephants elephantasise? You know as well as I do that they do not. Man alone burns with books.”
Before books there were stories — no point in making too much of a fuss about the difference between the two if we are considering the tales, like Rushdie’s, which dare to cross the boundary between this world and the other world. The most magical tales are often the ones that allow us to see our world most clearly — and I found myself thinking of Rushdie as I sat in the Barbican Pit a couple of nights ago, listening to The Singing Bones performed by The Devil’s Violin. The Devil’s Violin are fiddler Oliver Wilson-Dickson, cellist Sarah Moody, accordionist Luke Carver Goss and storyteller Daniel Morden.
The Singing Bones is an enchantment, a work that walks the line between life and death, between what we are and what we might become; which recognises with the power of voice and the power of music, that there is magic everywhere. Rushdie knows that too; all great artists do. Art itself is magic; that’s all there is to it. If you can’t be in Cheltenham this weekend I’ll be sorry to miss you, but then, perhaps, you might catch The Devil’s Violin on tour.
cheltenhamfestivals.com, 0844 5768970; www.thedevilsviolin.co.uk