The End Is Nigh!

Hendrick’s Carnival of Knowledge presents itself as a place of knowledge and relaxation, of playfulness and learning. It therefore came as a surprise to attend an event which was drier than the complimentary gin on offer.

The event had been billed as an examination of the Apocalypse in literature, but instead chose to approach ‘Apocalypse’ in a more metaphorical sense and talk about our obsession with the resolutions of novels. Our chair, Deputy Editor of Granta Magazine Ellah Allfrey, alternatively talked to PhD student David Hermann and author Stephen Hall. Allfrey was an informed host but not an engaging one; although evidently very knowledgeable about the topic, with several interesting ideas to share, she did not bring any charisma to the her role as director. Unsmiling throughout, one got the impression that she is more comfortable with her nose in a book than perched on a bar stool, attempting to perform to a Fringe audience. The event lacked structure and when a question came from an audience member about halfway through she was uncertain whether to take it or not.

David Hermann seemed like he had been invited to speak because he fitted so well into the Hendrick’s aesthetic. With retro clothes and a facial topiary and eyewear combination that looked modelled on Johnny Depp, he was a slightly more charismatic personality. However, he has evidently not learned to tailor his material to his audience; his constant references to texts and writers that he could not reasonably assume that we had read only perpetuated a sense of elitism.

Steven Hall is a mild-mannered author and one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. Particularly interested by the concept of the ending, he has written a number of stories which play on the idea, including one in which there are two beginnings but no end. Although evidently a man with an interesting perspective on the world, he is no performer and it was all too easy to tune out by the time he is reading his rather long extracts.

Interesting though the content was, with some rather curious ideas being raised about this desire to see all loose ends tied up at the end of a novel, the talk did not hang together particularly well as either academic lecture or fringe event. Furthermore, throughout the course of the talk our speakers latched onto theories and asserted them as fact, despite providing very little evidence for doing so. One such example was the presentation of the idea that ending Apocalypse narratives without a neat conclusion becomes a more common occurrence in times of recession. This concept was sweepingly posited and subsequently went unchallenged.

In mixing the cocktail of factors that went together to create this event something went bitterly wrong, and the whole concoction should have be thrown away. Go to any free public talk by a university English Literature Department or an event at the Edinburgh Book Festival instead of this; although you’ll be without grog, you’ll find yourself far more entertained, informed and engaged.

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