At 7.30pm tonight we are thrilled to kick-start our International Booker Prize Shortlist series with Olga Ravn and Martin Aitken, who join us live to speak to Heather Parry about their existential, atmospheric science fiction novel The Employees. The event also includes a short performed reading from the book by actor Lucy Phelps, directed by Blanche McIntyre on behalf of the Royal Shakespeare Company and commissioned by The Booker Prizes.

Since she published her debut novel Celestine in 2015, Olga Ravn has come to be regarded as one of the most influential writers in contemporary Danish literature. In her new book, The Employees, she has crafted a small masterpiece; brilliantly translated into English by award-winning translator Martin Aitken, whose own work spans Danish and Norwegian literature.

The Employees is a precisely-constructed jewel that takes readers aboard the Six-Thousand Ship as it hurtles through the far-flung universe in the 22nd century. Humans and humanoids give witness statements as testimony to their life in space, and the mysterious objects that they are employed to look after. As their statements unfold, it becomes increasingly clear that the occupants of this spaceship are moving towards an uneasy climax. Curious and unsettling answers begin to emerge in this novel that mirror our current capitalism-driven existential crisis: in an intergalactic cocoon such as this, what does it mean to be a worker, who is really in control and what, frankly, does it mean to be alive?

In this evening’s event, Ravn and Aitken share their ideas with Scotland-based writer Heather Parry, whose work has been published in various journals including The Stinging Fly, and who is co-editor of the Scottish literary magazine Extra Teeth.

“This beautiful and moving novel, set in a workplace – a spaceship some time in the future – is by turns loving and cold, funny and deliberately prosaic; capable of building a sense of existential horror one minute then quotidian comfort and private grief the next. In deceptively simple prose, threaded on a fully achieved and ambitiously experimental structure, it asks big questions about sentience and the nature of humanity. And about what happiness might be.”

            – 2021 International Booker Prize judges

All the events in this series are FREE to watch and broadcast live from our website with live captioning available. You can purchase any of the books in the series, including The Employees, from the Book Festival’s independent online bookshop here.

Mariana Enriquez & Megan McDowell with Daniel Hahn
Thursday 6 May | 7.30pm BST Watch live on our website here
In our next event, translator Megan McDowell and journalist, novelist and short story writer Mariana Enriquez — one of our original Outriders in 2017 — discuss their explosive collection of short stories, The Dangers of Smoking in Bed. Packed with ghoulish apparitions, uncontrollable desires and weird imaginings, The Dangers of Smoking in Bed is a visceral, fist-clenched, full-throated assault on all the senses – fearless fiction that feels perfectly attuned to our times. Enriquez and McDowell talk with renowned writer, editor and translator Daniel Hahn.

Our thanks go to each and every one of our sponsors and supporters for their continued support as we adjust and plan for the future. You can view who they all are on our supporters board.

If you feel you’d like to make a donation to the Book Festival charity to support our work, you can do so at any time on our website.


Leave a Reply