Edinburgh Book Festival: Emily St. John Mandel & Catherine Chanter

Colin Griffith is the Publishing Director for Tethered by Letters. He received his undergraduate degree in 2012 from Kenyon College, where he studied English with an emphasis in film. Focused on fiction and nonfiction alike, he’s especially fascinated by science fiction, horror, and cultural commentary. In addition to editing and publishing F(r)iction, Colin writes fiction reviews for the TBL website.

Edinburgh Book Festival: Emily St. John Mandel & Catherine Chanter

by Colin Griffith

StationElevenWhile I’ve enjoyed almost every part of the Edinburgh Book Festival, Monday evening brought one of my most personally anticipated events of the month. I was lucky to attend (indeed, lucky to get a ticket, as the Corner Theatre was packed) a reading by Emily St. John Mandel, bestselling author of Station Eleven.

Her book recently won the Arthur C. Clarke Award and was easily my favorite novel from last year. You can check out my gushing review of Station Eleven online or in F(r)iction #1. Mandel’s novel is set after the collapse of civilization, but calling it a post-apocalyptic story would be a disservice. It’s also a beautifully written exploration of the role of art in society and an imaginative portrait of things we tend to take for granted.

After the reading, Mandel discussed the genesis of the novel, describing her desire to carve a new path in a genre that has become rather bleak, focusing on the horror of collapse rather than the potential for renewal. She was also forthcoming about today’s publishing market, expressing apprehension at the idea of being forced into a type that might restrict creative freedom. This is an idea that often comes at the expense of marketability, due to the inherent imbalance between literary and genre fiction in the bookselling industry. Hearing Mandel talk candidly about that conflict was refreshing, and her success should be encouraging to aspiring novelists.

Mandel was accompanied at the reading by CatherineTheWell Chanter, author of the acclaimed novel The Well. While most of the audience was certainly there to see Mandel, Chanter provided fascinating answers in her section of the panel. I found her discussion of the novel’s social politics especially interesting. Chanter’s work has previously been featured in publications geared toward youth mental health institutions, and her discussion of that sensitive and often ignored topic was fascinating. Combining this with an examination of religion and politics, The Well seems like a worthy read for any literary enthusiast. I’ll be adding it to my already-crowded list as the end of the year approaches.

The end of the Festival is near, but we’ll be back with more coverage soon!

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