Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The Aldeburgh Bookshop

I did manage to dash in to the excellent double-fronted Aldeburgh Bookshop on Monday morning to touch base with John and Mary the proprietors who run the annual Aldeburgh literary festival (this year March 4-6). I went in, and in an extreme parody of the booksellers' worst nightmare, asked for a book I couldn't remember the name of by an author ditto. They did try to find it, and now they do know what the book was - The Possessed by (no not the one by Dostoievsky) but the memorably -named Elif Batuman. It is a comic book for grownups, about Russian literature. I haven't got it yet but it's on Amazon and the web. I also asked for W G Sebald's After Nature, the long poem that Patti Smith based her programme on at the Maltings last Saturday night - sold out. Ditto the winner of this year's Costa prize, Of Mutability by Jo Shapcott. So I bought Maggie Hambling's beautiful book about the making of, and controversy surrounding, her Scallop sculpture to honour Benjamin Britten on the beach at Aldeburgh, with an introduction by Stephen Fry. Here I can smuggle in the boast that the last time I was in Aldeburgh it was as a guest (with John) of Slava Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya. We had taken Yury Liubimov down to discuss how to get out of the Soviet Union. Yury and Slava sat in the sauna for hours while we pottered around the Red House where the Rostropoviches were staying. Slava told us how when B Britten and Peter Pears came to Russia, they had been giving a concert of songs set by Britten to poems by Pushkin. As Galina sang the last line of one which mentioned a bell, the bell in the clock tower at the venue chimed in at exactly the right moment.

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