Elizabeth Fraser, Bath and London
Few of the Olympics fans swarming the South Bank in London on a sweltering Monday night in the summer would have realised that a quieter personal triumph was taking place right beside them, inside the Royal Festival Hall. In fact Elizabeth Fraser had already begun her return from fifteen years of reticence a couple of days earlier in Bath. Awkward and shy, she found the warmest of welcomes from people deprived of hearing her sing live for fifteen years. Her voice has changed and she treats it more carefully, staying exclusively in the higher register. That’s changed the old Cocteaus songs as has the band she’s assembled but it’s the best of news that she feels at ease enough with the past to perform them. And the new material performed in public for the first time sounds really good. It’s pointless to dwell on what these concerts weren’t. What they were was wonderful enough: they were the beginning of a return.
‘Joseph Anton, A Memoir’ by Salman Rushdie
Finally free to tell his side of the biggest literary story of our generation, Rushdie spares few people from criticism, least of all himself. It takes a little getting used to an autobiography written in the third person, but ‘he’ rather than ‘I’ helps Rushdie tell his own story in the way he knows best: as a novel. And the dislocation matches that which he felt during that decade in hiding when he was referred to by the police who protected him only by his adopted pseudonym created from the first names of two other writers, Conrad and Chekov: ‘Joseph Anton.’ As you’d expect from one of the greatest of all living authors, he writes honestly, fluently and with humour about the unimaginable experience of being under constant threat of assassination; also his mistakes – especially ‘The Mistake’ of attempting to appease his enemies – his lowest point and the kindness of friends, strangers and secret policemen which keep him not only alive but sane and writing. This book has an important message about freedom of literature, freedom of speech and freedom to think. It’s a great memoir of a great wrong done to a great writer.
Banner illustration by Dean Lewis