By Farah Ahamed

 

“The longer you look at an object, the more of the world you see in it. No matter how particular the scene, if you stare long enough you will see the whole world in it.” These words, from the pen of Flannery O’Connor, refer to that split second when we can “see things for what they really are” and they led me to reflect upon which “objects” could offer an understanding of the “whole world”,

Recently, monuments across the globe have become the subject of controversy. After eighty years at the University of Cape Town, the bronze of white supremacist Cecil Rhodes was removed; at the University of North Carolina, Silent Sam, a Confederate statue, was taken down and, in San Francisco, a 19thCentury monument, Early Days, demeaning to Native Americans, was uninstalled. Where for decades they had previously stood accepted as part of the landscape, now these statues outraged viewers. Altered circumstances meant they represented an uncomfortable “truth”, which some argued should not be commemorated, but also in fact, ought to be erased.

What is certain is that a monument’s power ebbs and flows with the passing of time, resonating or jarring with the past as the present changes.

Each time a viewer stops to look closely at a statue, it reveals a new meaning. Whenever it is revisited, a different significance emerges, because while the statue stays intact in its fixed location the viewer and the world continue to change. Furthermore, as history unfolds, a statue will emphasise, reveal, hide or quash stories. This makes it “a place” rich in possibilities for both metaphorical and literal epiphanies and fertile ground used by artists and writers to offer what Joseph Conrad described as “a glimpse of truth”.

Bani Abdi is an artist who uses a statue to provide a platform for an alternative narrative about the Empire. Her modern art installation Memorial to Lost Words, “a song installation based on letters and songs from the first World War” of Indian soldiers in her own words, focused on the suppressed stories of the Raj which she highlighted by changing the sounds around the imposing monument of Queen Victoria at the Lahore Museum.

The Narrow Road To The Deep North coverBy virtually all accounts, 2014 was a big year for fiction: new novels by Sarah Waters, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Colm Toibin, Howard Jacobson and Ali Smith, with the final two appearing on the Man Booker shortlist; at the end, the prize was won by Tasmanian writer Richard Flanagan in the year that finally allowed American writers into the competition.

There were short-story collections by Hilary Mantel and Rose Tremain, and enormously successful debut novels in the shape of Jessie Burton’s bestselling “The Miniaturist” and Neel Mukherjee’s “The Lives of Others”, which also found favour with the Booker judges.

Salman RushdieSalman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro, Hilary Mantel, Margaret Atwood, Howard Jacobson and Martin Amis are among the authors appearing at this year’s Cheltenham Literature Festival.

The festival, sponsored by the Times and the Sunday Times, will be guest directed by crime writer Sophie Hannah; writer and academic, Amit Chaudhuri; human rights lawyer and director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti; and actor and comedian Omid Djallili.

Hilary Mantel has won the £50,000 Man Booker Prize for her novel Bring up the Bodies, the sequel to Wolf Hall, which won the prize in 2009.

Mantel is the first woman and the first British author to win the prestigious literary prize twice.

“This double accolade is uniquely deserved,” said Sir Peter Stothard, chairman of the judges.

The book is about Thomas Cromwell, an adviser to King Henry VIII, and charts the bloody downfall of Anne Boleyn.

It is the second book in a trilogy.

A third instalment, to be called The Mirror and the Light, will continue Cromwell’s story until his execution in 1540.

Mantel was announced as the winner at London’s Guildhall on Tuesday night.