Natalie Haynes at the Oxford Literary Festival

amber furyOne of the best new novels I’ve read so far this year has been The Amber Fury by Natalie Hayes (my review here).

I returned to the Oxford Literary Festival today to the confines of a lovely oak panelled room in Corpus Christi College to hear her in conversation with Peter Stothard.  The room held maybe sixty people in total, so we were up close and personal from the off.  Natalie and Stothard ambled in a few minutes late, apologising for their shambolic entry – they’d gone to the wrong venue!  They apologised for not having really prepared in advance to talk about Natalie’s novel – but it didn’t matter a jot.  Stothard (editor of the TLS), although prone to liking to hear his own views slightly too much, knows his classics OK, and Natalie as a classicist and former stand-up comedian can talk about anything, so it made for a great hour of chat.

The first of the Greek tragedies in the book that Alex uses to teach the PRU pupils is that of Oedipus.  Natalie said, “If you’re going to win over teenagers, definitely start with illicit incestuous sex.”  She explained (for structure nerds) how she structured the novel on Aristotleian principles – every scene should reveal character and advance the plot.  Also the book is in five acts, like the plays of Sophocles.  The over-riding theme is of freewill vs determinism – the essential Oedipal quandary.

NatalieHaynes_tagtmlHowever, we found out that Haynes’s own favourite Greek tragedy is that of Medea – the one who, spurned by Jason, killed all their children (according to Euripedes). It didn’t fit the book, however, the story of Alcestis which is essentially that of sacrifice did, and is also an essential part of the plot.

One other thing she said that stayed with me is, that you should read Catullus as a teenager, but Horace as a grown-up.  I did Catullus for O-level – our translations were rather tame as I discovered a few years later when I bought a proper edition of his poems as a student; I did love them then.  I’ve not looked at them for years – but then I’ve not read Horace – maybe his time is nigh.

Most of the audience appeared not to have read the novel!  I really recommend it – and I can claim bragging rights too. Natalie signed my ARC at the end, and was impressed that I had the ARC – ‘I only got given one of those’ she said.

She was a great speaker, erudite and funny of course, but when she read the first page and a half of her novel, (which immediately gets you hooked with suspense) – she was seriously good at that too.  The Amber Fury is a brilliant read, and you’ll definitely want to explore the Greek tragedies after reading it.






15 thoughts on “Natalie Haynes at the Oxford Literary Festival

  1. Really want to get this, even though I know nothing about the classics – waiting for the price to come down. I know I am going to want to pass this onto someone else after reading, which is why I’m not going for the Kindle version.

    I love it when interviewer and speaker know their stuff so well that all they have to do is sit and talk.

    I got sent a flier for the Oxford festival but unfortunately I live too far away to justify it 😦 The line up looked great.

    • I wish I’d been able to go to more events, but with most being upwards of a tenner and Ian McEwan being £25 – I had to pick and choose! There is a buzz around the colleges where most of the events are being held though, so next year I hope to do more.

  2. The Amber Fury…or, as it’s known in Sweden, “The Girl Who Ripped Him a New Paper Parasol”:P hehe It just looks like one of those “Dragon Tattoo” covers.

      • That’s a good start:P I saw all three of the Swedish films (reviews in my recent DVD review post). They were decent but not as impressive as I was anticipating. I could have done without the graphic rape/violence scenes. But, I know I am barking up the wrong tree:P

        Define classier.

        • It means a bit of thought has gone into the cover rather than just a what’ll stand out on the supermarket shelves level. So: the classical Greek hairdo, the silhouette rather than bare flesh. The Amber background actually being in the title – not Red/Blue/Green solid background (as in the UK editions of the Millennium trilogy).

          • I think the covers of both the Swedish crime stories and this Greek tale have similar effects and detail. And,both stories involve violence/rape. I don’t see much thought put into either series/cover other than color schemes and faces which do have a certain impact on a shopper. People seem to gravitate to either big text (as many lame covers employ) or faces that seem to look out or to the side. I suspect it’s like finding a coin on the ground. You either see the tail or face side and are drawn to pick it up. Just a theory.

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