x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Cultural calendar: Last week was just the beginning

The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair may be drawing to a close today, but we're only halfway through book season in the Emirates.

Martin Amis will appear at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature this week.
Martin Amis will appear at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature this week.

The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair may be drawing to a close today, but we're only halfway through book season in the Emirates. This week also sees the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. After that it's Art Dubai and the Bastikya Art Fair, then there's a month of country dancing, a long weekend devoted to the cunning art of cosmetic surgery, a fortnight on 19th-century styles of pugilism, seven film festivals and we're into summer - when we can sink with relief into our Mad Men box sets.

Thus is the UAE's arts calendar measured out. A friend once said he found the music of Philip Glass to be very "organised", since all the notes of the same pitch seemed to appear consecutively: first all the Cs, then all the F sharps and so on, like rows of identically coloured Smarties going past on a conveyor belt. Cultural life in the Emirates can feel like a bit like that. You want books? Here are books - books as far as the eye can see.

Still, it would be a shame if you'd sated your appetite for the company of authors with the splendid bunch in Abu Dhabi, because this second edition of the EAFL has a fascinating bill. If you aren't interested in seeing William Dalrymple, Youssef Ziedan, Marjane Satrapi or Garth Nix, you need to stay in more. Yet the headline act, so to speak, is certainly Martin Amis, for better or worse Britain's most prominent literary novelist. That alone would give a frisson to his appearance, but there are a number of other factors that should add savour to the proceedings.

Firstly, Amis is a reliable controversialist (you can tell by the way he keeps insisting he isn't one) who has in recent years busied himself saying lots of rhetorically pungent, politically daffy things about the demographics of ageing baby boomers, the fall-out from 1970s feminism and the roots of Islamist terrorism. He might not have offended absolutely everyone but most of us could be forgiven for feeling a certain gladiatorial thrill at the prospect of seeing him talking off the top of his head, ideally through his hat. He is, to use an expression current in wrestling, one of the most entertaining heels in the literary arena.

Secondly, he's just written his best novel, and must, surely, finally, after all these years, be in with a shout at the Man Booker. For years the idea of meeting Amis in the flesh would have been about as exciting as seeing a gig by the Rolling Stones, his musical counterparts in the collective dream life of the newspaper business - cool in its way, but only for nostalgic reasons. Now he's gone and made himself essential again. The Pregnant Widow, that miraculous latest book, pulls off the usual Amis trademarks of fiendish design and a nauseous, strangely myopic sense of detail, as if objects and people are all either lost in fog or seething away at maximum loathsomeness right under the reader's nose. At the same time it's funny, humble, believable and, on occasion, borderline wise. Didn't see that coming.

But it isn't all books in these parts. Among the numerous art openings that serve as a drum roll for Art Dubai this week, the most intriguing must be Vidéo'Appart Dubai, an "international video art biennale" now in its third edition in Paris but new to Dubai. The idea is that 46 pieces of video art are scattered throughout the city, in 18 galleries and private homes, shifting from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. Week one is Al Quoz, and features fascinating sounding work from Laurence Nicola and Jaanika Peerna at Portfolio Gallery, Ammar al Beik at Ayyam and many more.

In subsequent weeks there are video installations in Bastikya, DIFC and Jumeirah. Dubaians won't want to miss it, and by the sound of it, they won't be able to. Emirates Airline Festival of Literature: Wednesday to Saturday, InterContinental Hotel, Festival City, Dubai Vidéo'Appart Dubai: Wednesday until March 28, Dubai