European fiction in the UK: in or out?

European fiction in the UK: in or out?

Event: European fiction in the UK: in or out? 

Venue: Waterstones Piccadilly 

Report by Eleanor Baggley

The consequences of Brexit for all aspects of life in the UK are still very much unknown unknowns. The potential consequences specifically for European fiction in the UK were the topic in question at the latest Euro Stars Salon, run by the European Literature Network. Rosie Goldsmith, journalist and Director of the ELN, hosted the event and was joined by four authors, from a variety of cultural backgrounds.

The panel comprised of author, translator and Italophile Tim Parks, British author Joanna Walsh, French novelist Antoine Laurain, and Romanian diplomat and author Claudiu Florian.

Joanna Walsh arguably spoke the most eloquently about what Brexit means to her. Her writing is hugely influenced by European cultures and she is worried how this will change and whether her feeling of European-ness will go away. Walsh had no interest in becoming a writer until she discovered European literature in translation and became fascinated by the gaps and differences in meaning. It is understandable then, that Brexit seems to be an emotive issue for her.

Walsh is able to read and write in French, so France and the French language play a significant role in her writing. Her ‘engagement with the French language is to do with finding the gaps and differences in meaning’, and this playful exploration was obvious in the short story she read, ‘Fin de Collection’ from Vertigo.

Cultural unity

Joanna Walsh

Walsh’s writing is influenced by European cultures

All the panelists, with the exception of Tim Parks, spoke of the shock and anxiety that accompany the decision for Brexit. Laurain, although the most localised writer of the group in that he is Parisian and writes solely about Paris, talked about feeling connected to the UK via the EU. Parks was the only panelist who had no concerns about Brexit, because he said he has ‘never felt a sense of European cultural unity’ anyway.

There were clearly some differences in opinion among the authors, with Tim Parks almost certainly relishing his role as the voice of dissent. From reactions across the panel Parks’s comments seemed controversial, but I would argue that they really spiced things up and added extra nuances to an otherwise one-sided conversation. If anything it would have been interesting to hear more debate, if faulty microphones hadn’t hampered the event.

After a short discussion about the impact of Brexit, the authors read an extract of their work. Laurain and Florian read their extracts in both the original language and the translation, which was truly wonderful to hear. Laurain was joined by his translator, Jane Aitken, for the reading, and Florian read the same extract in Romanian, German and English, all his own translations. The readings overran which left no time in the end for questions from the audience. Although this was a shame, the quality of the readings made the lack of audience participation a worthwhile sacrifice.

This was a fascinating event and provided so much food for thought. I would have liked for the conversation to focus on the effect of Brexit on literature in more detail, but I’m aware that this would be nothing but conjecture. Although we can speculate it’s impossible to know exactly what impact Brexit will have on literature and culture. All we can do is hope that readers and authors will continue to champion literature in translation.

Report by Eleanor Baggley 

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