EVENT REVIEW: Benjamin Myers, Alexei Sayle, Lionel Shriver: The News as a Novel

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13th October

Durham Town Hall

Review by Megan Goundry

This event covered pertinent subjects that resonated strongly with every member of the audience in one way or another. Whether they were using humour, uncomfortably honest commentaries, or dystopian imagery, Lionel Shriver, Alexei Sayle and Benjamin Myers all provided their own insight into the topics frequently seen, and read, in the press.

Benjamin Myers, a writer and journalist, started the event by discussing the importance of language in relation to President Donald Trump. This insight took the form of a video with his commentary over the top, making insightful remarks as well as humorous (and often crude) ones. The video explored Trump’s use of language and demonstrated that, while ostensibly his communication is primitive, Trump is actually very skilled in insidiously deceiving without directly lying. In perhaps one of the most perspicacious remarks of the evening, Myers remarked: ‘Truth’s midwife is language’.

Next we saw Alexei Sayers take to the stage with an account of one of his own personal experiences. Being a comedian, it was only natural that the narrative was unapologetically funny. He linked needing police protection in Liverpool – following the publication of an apparent death threat towards him in the Liverpool Echo – to his experiences in Israel, when making a train documentary, which resulted in him needing armed escorts. The stories seemed to draw upon issues such as terrorism and violence, which are prevalent in today’s society and in the media; but by weaving humour throughout the narrative he made it less daunting. His final line joked ‘I’ve only needed police protection twice, and both times were a result of the Liverpool Echo’.

Lionel Shriver, author of We Need to Talk about Kevin, was the last contributor that evening. Reading a letter written in the setting of a dystopian future, she discussed what is perhaps the most pressing concern for many people today: immigration. The future she created was one of camps and food shortages and a dissolved or collapsed society buckling under the strain of immigration. ‘Coast guards’ were gunning down boats approaching the shore with refugees, and towns and villages were replaced by camps. Nevertheless, despite the sheer awfulness of the image created, Shriver managed to be funny on occasions. She left the audience slightly staggered and deep in thought.

‘The News as a Novel’ was an event that encapsulated some of the most pressing concerns covered by the media, presenting it in such a way that was varied, interesting and provocative.