For the whole hour of the ‘Outsiders’ session at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Monday 14 August, we wondered if Wioletta Greg would show up or not. Our heads turned automatically each time a shadow passed behind the two glass doors, hoping it might be her. To our great disappointment, however, she did not materialize.
Nick Barley, the Director of EIBF, who was chairing the session, told us that she was in Edinburgh and that he expected her to arrive any minute. Greg’s interpreter was on stage, along with the author Edouard Louis, with whom Greg had been paired for this session. Edouard took full advantage of the additional time available and gave us a fascinating inside into his working class background, family life, his metamorphosis and his view of the world. He spoke especially of the lack of understanding of the working class majority by the middle class minority, and of the fear, aggression and violence which are, according to him, an inherent part of the lives of poor working class people across the world.
Unfortunately there was no comparison made between his novel and Greg’s, very different in their style and the author’s perception of the world. Edouard read, in English, a passage of his book The End of Eddy, while Nick Barley gave a French reading of the same extract. Greg’s interpreter read from Swallowing Mercury in English, but nobody read it in Polish. Personally, I would have preferred to hear Edouard Louis reading his own French text, and the Polish interpreter reading Swallowing Mercury in her native Polish, as Greg wasn’t there to read it herself. It is important to hear the music of a foreign language read by a native speaker, rather than a non native speaker struggling to do so. I would still like to know what the point of the reversal was.
A Dutch lady, sitting next to me, had travelled all the way from near Dunkeld to hear Wioletta Greg. Her daughter-in-law is Polish, and she was hoping to learn about good Polish contemporary literature. There was six of us from Zielony Balonik, the Scottish Polish Book Club. We had all read Swallowing Mercury, some of us in Polish and some in English, and we were truly surprised and disappointed that Greg did not show up and had not communicated with the organisers. The only consolation is that we have discovered a great new French author!