This is a transcription of Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Two New Books — 25 August 2023’
Melissa: Coming up, a noir heist novel that traipses across Europe.
David: A trip to the Antarctic with a compelling writer.
Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.
David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.
Melissa: I’ve recommended the work of author Christine Mangan before. Her novel Tangerine is a noir thriller set in the twisty alleys of 1950s Tangier. It has two unreliable heroines and stunning descriptions of the scenery, the heat, and the tension of post-WWII Morocco. I was less enamored of her follow-up The Palace of the Drowned. That one is set in 1960s Venice and, again, features the fraught relationship between two prickly women.
Melissa: She’s very, very good at creating atmosphere and transporting you to the settings of her books. In the Palace of the Drowned, there’s a devastating storm in Venice, and even though the story didn’t win me over, I felt like I was right there, ankle deep in that deadly cold and terrifying rising water.
Melissa: Her new book is The Continental Affair. It’s a noirish heist story, set in the 1960s. And it begins on a train in Europe. Our would-be heroine Louise kicks off the action with the words, ‘Pardon me, but I think you’re in my seat.’
Melissa: The end of that paragraph is this: ‘Henri wishes, suddenly, that it were still early morning, that he were back in the Hotel Metropol, that he had more time.’
Melissa: This is the story of Louise and Henri, two antiheroes, who meet under criminal circumstances and embark on an adventure that takes them from the Alhambra in Spain to Paris, Belgrade, and Istanbul, with forays into memories of Algeria and the English countryside.
Melissa: I’m reading it right now. I’m about one hour from the end, and I love it. Again, Mangan is transporting me to these places. I Googled so many things about Algeria. The port city of Oran. The Fort of Santa Cruz. I feel like my life will only be complete if we go there to try créponné. That’s a lemon sorbet invented in the city of Oran. And in Belgrade, Louise eats cevapcici and drinks rakija. Travelogue bits aside, this novel is giving Daphne du Maurier and Alfred Hitchcock vibes. It’s tense with murky motives and a probably-doomed love story. It’s The Continental Affair by Christine Mangan.
David: In 2017, a ship full of scientists set out to research one of the glaciers in the Antarctic. That glacier’s name is the Thwaites Glacier, but some call it the Doomsday Glacier. It’s about the size of Washington state, and if it melts, it could add two feet to the sea level all on its own.
David: No human had ever seen it up close. So a whole bunch of people thought, maybe we should go down there and — you know — do some science. So they all get on a ship called the Nathaniel B. Palmer.
David: One of the people on that ship was Elizabeth Rush. She’s a writer. She had previously written a book called ‘Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore.’ That book is about how climate change is affecting the states. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer. She’d gotten an invitation to get on the Nathaniel B. Palmer and immediately said yes.
David: She is warned that she will be at sea for 60 days on this trip. She still says yes. She’d been covering the climate crisis for about a decade at that time. When she gets on the ship, for 60 days crossing some of the roughest seas in the world — to study an event that will probably reshape the planet — she is pregnant.
David: She wrote a book about the whole experience, which just came out. It’s called ‘The Quickening: Creation and Community at the Ends of the Earth.’
David: Based on the chapter that I read, Rush has written the book I want to read about the Antarctic. She writes about the experience with details that bring it to life for me. Rush describes her clothes — and how she decided what to wear. She writes about the bar she visited the night before the launch, the people with her, and what they brought for the trip. That list includes hundreds of bags of Yorkshire tea, pounds of chocolate, and a copy of the movie ‘Mean Girls.’ She describes the people in a way that feels literary. And she talks about science, with only the expectation that the reader is curious. This is a non-fiction, true-to-life thriller with a strong literary bent, and I can’t wait to read it. It’s ‘The Quickening: Creation and Community at the Ends of the Earth”’ by Elizabeth Rush.
David: And now, our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]
David: If you’re listening to this on release day, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival wraps up this weekend. It started in 1947, and has since become the world’s largest arts festival and one of the biggest ticketed events in the world. Only the Olympics and the World Cup attract more people.
David: The festival might be primarily known for its comedy where its well represented with stand-up, sketch, and improv. But it also hosts theater, dance, circus, cabaret, children’s shows, street artists, and musicals. There were over 3,000 shows this year, and more than 45 thousand performances spread over three weeks. Artists came from all over the world to be seen.
David: Some recent successes that have come out of the Fringe include Phoebe Waller Bridge’s ‘Fleabag,’ which started as a show there, and the musical ‘Six,’ about the six wives of Henry VIII. That show won a Tony when it went to Broadway, and it’s currently touring through the US.
David: Shows that were well-reviewed this year included a musical about ‘NSync, told from the point of view of Chris Kirkpatrick, arguably the least popular boy in the boy band. The first scene of that show is on Christmas Eve, 2009, with Chris in a line at a Starbucks in Hollywood, recognized by no one. The show is called, ‘Chriskirkpatrickmas: A Boy Band Christmas Musical.’
David: The Guardian also enjoyed ‘Shamilton! The Improvised Hip Hop Musical.’ An improv group takes suggestions from famous names from the audience, picks one, and then creates a Hamilton-like musical around, say, Lady Gaga or Nicolas Cage. That includes a band, and the cast makes up the songs on the spot, with harmonies, backing vocals, and choreography.
David: But it is not all light and pop references at the Fringe. Another well-reviewed show is from a Belgian theater company. It’s called ‘Funeral.’ The Guardian described it as ‘[ a show where ] they use their remarkable powers of invention and persuasion to create a deeply respectful and communal environment in which to allow the audience, individually and collectively, to grieve.’ Five stars, said the reviewer. I’m simultaneously attracted and repelled by this idea, which I think is right where it should be.
David: If you are away from central Scotland right now, you could make plans for next year’s Fringe. At best, you’ll see some fascinating and insightful theater. At worst, you’ll still be in Edinburgh. You could say hello to our friend Tom at Typewronger Books, enjoy a lovely tea at the National Gallery, and then board a train for the highlands.
David: Have you been to the Fringe? Drop us a line and let us know about your experience. You can reach us at email@example.com.
Melissa: Visit strongsenseofplace.com/library for more on the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and all of the books we mentioned today. You can also use the handy links in the podcast description.
David: Thanks for joining us in the Libary of Lost Time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent book store to lose some time yourself.
Melissa: Stay curious! We’ll talk to you soon.
Top image courtesy of Mo and Paul/Shutterstock.
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