This post is later than I would like. Fortunately that isn’t because I haven’t done anything new worth writing about, quite the opposite in fact. In the last week I have for the first time, in no particular order: seen Deadpool; presented a woman with a single, red rose; visited the British Museum; read Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper (or at least 98% of it); and I witnessed the conversation between Kazuo Ishiguro and David Mitchell (no, not the comedian) at the Royal Festival Hall. Today I’ll talk about two of these.
Yesterday was a day of themes. Mostly they were disaster themes, but also ghosts. I spent the day up in London, visiting the British Museum before heading off to hear the authors speak like a good little Creative Writing student. I nearly didn’t get there at all. On my way to the station I got stuck behind a lorry doing twenty mph in a fifty zone, but I’m not here to talk about that, or of lost umbrellas, or wrong restaurants or delayed trains, or even of the other two lorries that followed the first. No, I’m here to talk about writers and ghosts.
For those of you who have never been there, The British Museum is vast. There are rooms and rooms of glass cases, full of objects from all over the world. Knowing the British Empire, most of these were probably stolen. It really is a novel approach to theft. Instead of trying to hide your plunder from the law you stick it in a big building, invite the public in, call it a museum and request a donation of £2 a visitor. Brilliant. Assuming this was the case, the British Museum surely reflects the lifetime haul of the most prolific thief of all time. My friend and I were there for nearly two hours, and we didn’t even complete a single room. That is how big it is.
Still, our slow rate of progress may in part be due to my interest in one particular object.
Before you start, no, I wasn’t interested in it for that reason. Well, maybe a bit. You see, what you’re looking at is a trumpet from 18th century Tibet. Fashioned from a human thigh bone, it was used in exorcisms, and it was this fact, combined with its somewhat distinctive shape, that had me so amused. For whatever reason, I was struck by these Tibetan exorcists, like saffron robed Ghostbusters, turning up at some poor child’s bedside, reassuring the Mother that they were professionals and then getting out their equipment. The real challenge being not snorting with laughter as they blew on their dick-trumpet. Professionals indeed.
The British Museum’s an interesting place though, I really need to go back.
Then there came the talk between Mitchell and Ishiguro, distinct in its obvious lack of dick trumpets. Mitchell (not the comedian) is most famous for Cloud Atlas, a novel that is great, even if its as weird as it is long. Ishiguro on the other hand had been writing for decades, and it would be hard to say which he is most famous for. Let’s go with The Remains of The Day, a book which has a real subtle beauty to it, even as it contains the single saddest bus stop in fiction.
These literary giants talked a lot about ghosts. Mitchell’s brother is responsible for instilling a healthy fear of ghosts at an early age through a horrific story involving dead Grandparents and ripped out livers. Mitchell was quick to defend his brother, but since the sibling concerned was in the audience, this may have been less out of honesty than fear of retribution. Ishiguro almost seemed to make fun of his colleague’s fear, suggesting that western ghosts weren’t really that scary when compared to their Japanese counterparts.
It was an interesting evening, full of deep philosophical insights, and if there’s one problem with deep philosophical insights, it’s that they’re hard to make amusing without making fun of them. The major problem with that is how difficult that is when you agree with them. Still there was one moment when Mitchell tried to encapsulate all of Ishiguro’s novels in a pat summary, asked if Ishiguro agreed, to which he responded…