World Book Night at the h Club: A welcome reminder of the simple pleasures of reading
Whilst caught up in the unerring current of city life, many commuters cling to only their phones for buoyancy, scrolling through the latest clickbait in an attempt to stave off the tides of boredom. But yesterday evening at Covent Garden’s h Club, World Book Night assured Londoners that they need never sink, for the pages of a book will provide safe passage to every conceivable island of the imagination.
This literary liferaft of an evening, held afloat by a diverse and distinguished lineup of raconteurs – including actors and authors – pulled us into a rich and wildly varied array of fictional worlds. From darkly comic works such as Bev Thomas’s A Good Enough Mother and Catherine Steadman’s Something in the Water to the murkier depths of unhealthy relationships (Rosie Walsh, The Man Who Didn’t Call; Rebeccas Reid, Perfect Liars) and into spine-tingling thriller territory (Louise Doughty, Platform Seven; Fiona Neill, Beneath the Surface), the copies in the hand of each storyteller, both brand new and well-worn, teased out the humour and pathos from all corners of life.
Two standout readings were Jason Isaac’s wonderfully sassy rendition of his specially selected text, David Sedaris’s Who’s the Chef? (the actor donning yet another flawless accent) and Emma Jane Unsworth’s charmingly candid extract from her own novel Animal, which has recently been adapted into a film. Both brought laughter to a room heavy with post-heatwave, post-bank holiday lethargy. Meanwhile, James Purefoy’s reading of Four Seasons in Rome brought a tear even to his own eye, such is the power of the written word.
Mike Gayle’s upcoming release Half a World Away found a natural partner in Jaqueline Wilson’s classic kid’s book Illustrated Mum, performed beautifully by Michelle Collins (who played the role in the TV adaptation). Both texts demonstrated how books can tackle the tough membrane of meatier issues such as class, making them accessible to adults and children alike.
Indeed, World Book Night was, as our host joked, the ultimate Jackanory, and crucially, the event is about rekindling that childlike wonder, the force that can keep us curled up for hours on end with a novel. Steven Mackintosh’s final reading, which ended in a twist that sent a gasp through the audience, confirmed that the night had achieved its goal, if only for this roomful of people.
For further information and future events visit the World Book Night website.