Event Review: Where No Novel Has Gone Before

The Festival of Italian Literature in London

Review by Chiara Pistillo

The event “Where No Novel Has Gone Before” on 3rd November 2019 was part of a two-days festival in London dedicated to literature and culture, with a major involvement of Italian authors, journalists, translators and academics.

However, FILL (Festival of Italian Literature in London) revolves around global topics and it hosts speakers from all over the world. The event I have attended is a perfect example of this.

The guests were Rachel Cusk, a Canadian novelist living in the UK, and Edoardo Albinati, an Italian writer recently translated in English. The chair was Claudia Durastanti, Italian writer and translator born in Brooklyn.

The interview covered a number of different topics, starting from the use of the “I” and the first person narration, moving to the female narration in literature and to the relevance of the novel as a genre.

Being a young woman with the ambition of becoming a writer, I found particularly interesting the discussion about the female narration in literature. In Cusk’s trilogy – Outline, Transit and Kudos – and in the recently English translated Albinati’s The Catholic Church – female narration and female voices are somehow decentred from the main picture.

Cusk’s trilogy is made up of encounters with all sorts of people and even if the narrator is a woman, the narration is entirely made of other people’s talking, their stories and voices. The main character is a listener, a matter-of-fact reporter. One could argue that this passivity/invisibility badly suits what we want women to represent in modern society, but Cusk made a point in saying that even though the narrator doesn’t really take any action and doesn’t make any change to the stream of events, she is not passive, let alone invisible. She is indeed the very reason why all those stories have a meaning: only by telling them those stories exist.

In a similar way, Albinati’s book doesn’t have any main female character. One very simple reason is that the story is set in an all-male catholic school run by priests; the other reason is that the author wanted to create an analogy between the 50s bourgeois women and Hail Mary, an absence that is very much an ascetic presence, filled with sacrifice in name of a higher belief – religion for Mary, and wealth for the bourgeois women.

Then followed a number of reflections on topics such as universality and point of view, the power of literature in life, and the reasons behind writing. Albinati’s position where one writes not to remember and gather memories, but to burn those very memories struck me as a very powerful act, true in many ways for a great number of writers.

It was a pleasant hour and a half, listening to authors’ thoughts and strong opinions. It has been a full immersion in that cultural and literary world that I so much enjoy, and I certainly hope to be back next year to participate to more panels.

About the Reviewer

Chiara was born in Italy in 1994, then fell in love with the UK and moved to London. She’s a reader, writer, translator and traveller. While working in finance, Chiara dreams of a career in journalism and publishing – work in progress.

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