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Bright Stars Rising

Jenny Messenger

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Free wine and four shiny new novelists kindled the atmosphere at Blackwell’s recent Rising Literary Stars event. With Roma Tearne as chair, debut novelists Ali Shaw, Poppy Adams, Samantha Harvey, and James Miller answered questions on memory and loss, themes that link their work.

Tearne’s chosen themes made for an engaging discussion on the form of the novel. Harvey’s The Wilderness centres on a man whose Alzheimer’s illustrates how “without memory, self and story crumble”; in a similar vein, Shaw’s The Girl With Glass Feet explores “memories soured by time”. These problems of memory prompt narrative experimentation: Adams’s The Behaviour of Moths is told through a “prolix, unreliable and highly confected narrator”, while Miller’s Lost Boys unfolds the same material three times” from different points of view, exposing the inevitable fallibility of the narrator. Whilst the talk veered at times toward the opaque and philosophical (perception and reality; the constructs and fabrications with which we create our pasts), this discussion of memory and form was unshakably absorbing.

Suspecting nascent writers were lurking in her audience, Tearne also laid bare the authors’ plotting techniques (more chaotic intuition than meticulous forethought) and, to the horror of all but the most exuberant, invited audience participation. Despite this slightly Socratic approach, Tearne proved the star of the evening as her overarching yet gentle presence lent coherence and originality to what could easily have been a staidly average book reading.

Only time will tell whether this was an event worth boasting about “in years to come”; but for once, the propaganda may actually live up to the promise.

Jenny Messenger is a second-year classics student at Worcester College, Oxford. She is an editor of ORbits.