So the plan was that RevCheryl was going to this event at Ely Cathedral and I would be stuck down here in Devon completely green with very un-Christian envy, but the next best thing would be that RevCheryl had kindly agreed to write a guest post on the event for me. In the end I went too as I think you may have gathered by now and even made good friends with Amy the vicar's adorable little dog seen here with her owner. But I still asked RevCheryl to write up her thoughts on it all and here they are, and I have been instructed that under no circumstances was I to edit out the bits about me...so I haven't.
Here is RevCheryl Unedited.
Living close by what
must be one of the country’s finest independent bookshop, Topping & Co, I
am privileged to go to many writer events. When I read that Margaret Atwood was
coming, my days of being a huge fan ( when I wasn’t such a weary feminist and she
was writing books like ‘Bodily Harm’) had long past. But who passes up the
opportunity to see and hear a novelist as prestigious as Atwood, especially
when she is coming ALL THE WAY FROM CANADA- not me.
So I got my ticket early and began to dutifully think about reading some of the many Atwood novels I had never got round to reading, the pile was big, I wanted to read the Booker long-list, and I quickly narrowed my Atwood reading down to one book-‘Oryx and Crake’. It languished on my ‘to-be read’ pile for a while, and then one day, idly, I picked it up and started reading. Immediately I was drawn into this book as into few others- the story of how Jimmy became Snowman and how the monumental stupidity and arrogance of humanity finally brought us to a place of such dystopian bleakness held my attention completely.
Meanwhile, a certain delightful picture on a certain blog and descriptions not just of books but of book shopping, knitting shops and quilting treats had led me to chose Devon as my holiday destination where I was invited to meet Dovegreyreader face to face. You will not be surprised to learn that she is as warm, generous and passionate about books and people in real life as she is on the blog; and, knowing what a big Atwood fan she is, I invited her to join me at the Atwood event in Ely. By this time I was agog to read ‘The Year of the Flood’ myself and raced through it before Lynne arrived.
It was my absolute pleasure to accompany her round the bookshops of Cambridge and Ely culminating in a visit to Toppings. The only danger was that I seemed to be buying an awful lot of books myself! Nine in 24 hours is good going, even for me, but all of us who read her blog are familiar with the way that DGR’s enthusiasm for a book is infectious, and that effect is even more potent in the flesh. As we wandered around, our only worry was whether we might giggle at the event; as some of the reports had suggested there might be an unintentional humour, especially to the singing of the gardener hymns.
Also we began to worry that Margaret Atwood might turn out to be all sly cleverness and no wisdom or human compassion at all- why for instance was she insisting that these events take place in churches? Was this a dig by an acknowledged atheist at religion and all its trappings?
By the time we were finishing supper Ely High Street was already filling up with people who had the unmistakable look of serious cultural junkies, all heading in the direction of the cathedral. It was a good job that my friend and colleague Pauline had already arrived and secured us seats in the second row of the transept and even more fortunate that this turned out to be the side of the stage on which Ms. Atwood sat.
Much to our relief the hymns sounded much better when you concentrated on the music and didn’t try to distinguish all the words, and in her interview at the end of the evening Margaret Atwood made the fair point that all hymns have some words and phrases that sound bizarre and silly to those not part of the faith.
By the end of the evening I was converted back into an Atwood fan and look forward to wrestling with her work some more. It’s not that I have become uncritical, but her sincerity was unquestionable, and I came away feeling a great deal of liking and respect for her and her desire to make the rest of us think and act with less stupidity and arrogance towards our planet and its rich life.
‘The Year of the Flood’ itself reads like a second book in a trilogy. The ending is a cliffhanger and it lacks the clear narrative drive of ‘Oryx and Crake’. But there are lots of good things in it and it invites us to question ourselves on many themes- never a bad thing in my opinion. Read it, but read ‘Oryx and Crake’ first is my advice.
Finally, I know another story about a flood in which the dove brings back hope as an olive branch in its beak. For many of us, the community of bookish delight, which DGR has invited us into and made so safe and welcoming a place, has given us hope and a renewed pleasure and passion for our reading and even for our lives, perhaps at time when things seem bleak and barren. Long may the wind lift up her wings and other trite clichés.