This lunchtime I saw Andrey Kurkov and Ronan Bennett at the Book festival. Bennett read from Zugzwang (serialised in The Observer last year and my introduction to his work but we’re assured with a different second half), Kurkov from his new novel The President’s Last Love. This features a man who accidentally becomes President of Ukraine – poisoning of politicians, the Russians cutting off gas supplies, a ludicrous celebration attended by ludicrous world leaders, and other delights. Kurkov was a wonderful interviewee – tales of his distribution of his first novel (carted around in a funeral bus as he plied the undertaker with alcohol to allow a delivery just before a scheduled funeral and sold by Kurkov wearing sandwich boards in a market (while being harassed by those running a local protection racket)), interviews with security officers concerned that the poisoning of politicians in his book may have given some people ideas, and the like. Bennett, while engaging, sadly couldn’t compete.
This was reflected in the signing tent afterwards where Kurkov’s queue rivalled those for Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (although with fewer screaming children and one or two more Ukrainians).