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Event Review: Brian Keenan at the Bluecoat

October 27, 2009

Written by Vanessa Chellembron, audience member at the Bluecoat

Brian Keenan with Vanessa

Brian Keenan with Vanessa

Brian Keenan is best known for being taken hostage in Beirut in 1985, a strange thing to be know for, but nonetheless, the reason we know him – this and An Evil Cradling, his account of the time taken from him.

An Evil Cradling is not just an account of being held hostage, it is a profoundly moving book, a story of one man’s emotional journey through the turbulence; the harshness and depravity is there, but along with it is a wondrous humour and vitality. It is a story of the intense connection with his fellow captive John McCarthy, they shared a hilarity and love which fed their spirits and spurred them on in spite of the worst imaginable circumstances.

It is an extraordinary account of humanity, humility and humour, a remarkable book which has helped me in my life. Quite frankly Brian Keenan is one of my heroes, so when I heard he was doing a reading at the Bluecoat (Friday 16th Oct), I knew I had to go.

He read from his new book I’ll Tell Me Ma, not so much an autobiography as a collection of memories from his childhood. Memories that for him led on to stranger and long-forgotten memories, thoughts of a young boy now interpreted by an adult mind, connections made as skeletons gently revealed their secrets.

Brian Keenan was rather sweetly nervous at the beginning, saying that the audience were more threatening than a bunch of Arab terrorists(!), but relaxed as he read to us, then happily answered questions from Jane Davis and the audience.

He is a charming man and spoke from his heart, he said that his emotions are always close to the surface, he lives through them – a lesson to us all.

He did a book signing after the event, and took time for everyone. He very kindly agreed when my friend asked if I could have my photo taken with him (I was too in awe of him to ask!), and seemed delighted to show his human and rather mischievous side.

Whoever said that you should never meet your heroes was wrong. It was an honour to meet Brian Keenan, he is a truly lovely man.

— — —

Jane Davis, Director of The Reader Organisation, hosted this event with Brian Keenan and she says this of her experience:

Anyone who has read An Evil Cradling will know that Brian Keenan has written  one of the most extraordinary books of the twentieth century, giving voice to key experiences and fears of our time. The book is a moving testament to a courage and resilience which seems to arise from but also be greater than the individual.

I’ll Tell Me Ma, his new memoir (not at all miserable)  is an account, to use an old fashioned phrase, of the development of a soul, the soul that became the man who survived the brutal captivity described in the first book. The book is a series of vivid memories and meditations, a rather Wordsworthian account of a lonely and deeply felt childhood.

Reading and rereading the books was my prep for the Chapter and Verse event at Bluecoat last week, and they helped, but nothing had prepared me for the depth of feeling, wit, gentleness and deeply individual creature that  is Brian Keenan. I felt I was meeting someone who utterly become himself, crystallised, absolute. It was a great pleasure and an experience that will stay with me, and I think many members of the audience, for a long time.

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