Prague Writers' Festival hits peak with readings by Jeffrey Eugenides, Irvine Welsh

Michael March and Jeffrey Eugenides, photo: CTK

This year's annual Prague Writers' Festival has come to its final day and already it is obvious it will go down as one of the most successful literary events in the Czech Republic in 2003. Appearances by world-renowned writers at Theatre Minor in Prague, have been heavily attended to hear from famous, as well as lesser known, authors. The festival reached probably its highest peak two nights ago: Tuesday saw appearances by fresh Pulitzer prize winner Jeffrey Eugenides, who read from Middlesex, and Irvine Welsh, who read from his provocative first novel Trainspotting.

Michael March and Jeffrey Eugenides,  photo: CTK
Joining me in the studio now my colleague Jan Velinger, who was able to attend some of those festival evenings, and by the looks of it has no regrets!

No Dita, none at all, in a word the mood has been electric. Let me say that most peoples' expectations for the festival were even higher this year than last and I think it's clear they have been met and probably surpassed. Highlights have been readings by some of the most exciting authors from around the world - all of the ones I have been fortunate to see also read really well - and that's not always the case...

What were you able to enjoy so far?

Jeffrey Eugenides in Prague's Minor Theatre,  photo: CTK
For me personally I think seeing and hearing Jeffrey Eugenides read from his fresh Pulitzer-prize winning novel on Tuesday was very exciting. The section he chose from Middlesex was almost more poetry than prose, a moment describing a prominent slice of American life: work on an assembly line at a Ford car plant in Detroit. The language was tightly wound, contrasting flowing and repeated rhythm and repetition of motifs. That captured the poetry of motion of the assembly line, as well as describing the workers', or characters', small place in the factory, a self-contained world. It was completely absorbing. And he's a charming guy - speaking afterwards to the moderator he laughed and said that after winning the Pulitzer he was a little less - just a little less - embarrassed the book took him nine years to write.

What else that evening?

Irvine Welsh,  photo: CTK
Well, there was a reading by an interesting Greek writer named Nikos Panayotopoulos, who spoke about his previous career as a journalist, followed by perhaps the biggest highlight of the evening, an appearance by Irvine Welsh, whose novel Trainspotting must be known to just about everyone. Mr Welsh was apparently hard to get to the venue because he wanted to watch the football match between Manchester and Real Madrid, but once there he was at ease, more than willingly answering the moderator's, as well as the crowd's questions. I should say his appearance was preceded by a performance by Czech actors in the Czech version of the stage play of Trainspotting, that had the crowd in stitches. A very uncomfortable but ultimately funny example of black, or perhaps bleak humour, in which a character awakens to find he has soiled his bed in the night. Of course Welsh is brutally naturalistic and his descriptions of drug culture, working class culture, are not to everyone's taste. Inevitably an insulted man in the crowd tried to get a rise from the author, criticising him for the way he writes about the drug culture, and so on, but Mr Welsh took it in stride, just taking a sip of his beer.

Overall then, Jan, it sounds like the festival has been a lot of fun...

Yes it has, not least because the venue where the festival is taking place is once again Prague's intriguing Minor Theatre, reopened last year with great interior design: very playful. Blacks, reds, light wood panelling, unusual shapes and motifs and little rounded corners and keyholes where you can talk, flirt, and sip a free cocktail offered by one of the Czech Republic's most famous liquor companies. Writers mingled, many of them gathering in the smoking area, too. The whole feel of the festival is very laid back, one of accessibility. After attending the readings too, many got the urge to buy the books on site. One of the festival's partners the Big Ben Bookshop has novels laid out right in the theatre, though I must warn you, Jeffery Eugenides' Middlesex has sold out for now.

On Friday, April 11th, Radio Prague will have more on the festival, including a short interview with Canadian Booker-prize winner Yann Martel, the author of Life of Pi.