Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Subjective Truths – Iain Reid and Craig Davidson

How do you talk about a story without revealing the ending? This was a particularly difficult question for Mclean's John Geddes as he engaged Craig Davidson and Iain Reid in conversation on Monday evening. Both Davidson and Reid have written tension-filled, propulsive stories that build toward revelations which change the reader’s understanding of their respective narratives. Geddes handled the discussion well, building the audience’s interest without revealing any spoilers.


Craig Davidson opened the evening with a reading from his new novel, The Saturday Night Ghost Club. The passages which Davidson had selected showcased the strengths of his book, especially its narrative tension and profound sense of place. Memory – its malleability and fallibility and, most of all, its power – lies at the heart of this book. Davidson’s well-chosen passages immersed the audience into his narrator’s past.


Iain Reid read from the opening of his new novel, Foe. The tension and unease that run through much of the book were evident in his reading. Immediately, the audience was introduced to the main characters, Junior and Hen, whose marriage is the centre of the story. For those in the audience that hadn’t yet read the book, this small taste surely left them wanting to know more.


So what can you talk about then, if you can’t talk about plot? Well, quite a lot, actually. Both Davidson and Reid discussed their approach the writing process. Davidson talked about the evolution of his narrator. In the finished book, the narrator, Jake, is a brain surgeon but in the first drafts he was “just Jake.” As Davidson’s fascination with surgeons and the brain deepened during his research, he decided that the protagonist of The Saturday Night Ghost Club would be a neurosurgeon. Reid talked of how he had started Foe from a single image of a rural couple living in separate rooms. He wrote his way into the story, using no outline.


There is lot of common ground for these writers. Davidson’s first book, the short story collection Rust and Bone, was made into a film and both of Reid’s novels will find their way onto the screen. (The screen version of I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Reid’s first novel, will be written and directed by Charlie Kaufman. Foe was optioned for film before it was even published.) Both Davidson and Reid view the film versions of their work as happy surprises. As pleased as they each are to have their writing translated to film, neither writer tries to exert creative control over the movie versions of their books.


Geddes, Davidson and Reed were pleasingly at ease with each other and each author’s adept anecdote delivery made the hour on stage move quickly. Want to know what happens in these books? Better get a copy!