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Stefano Benni & Jonathan Coe draw capacity crowd

Stefano Benni and Jonathan Coe were in conversation in front of a standing-room-only crowd at the Italian Cultural Institute in London's Belgravia to celebrate the UK publication of Stefano Benni's novel 'Margherita Dolce Vita' this month.
Speaking to a packed audience, the two writers compared and contrasted their approaches to writing and comedy. Benni described how he liked to write taking on different roles - as if he were in an orchestra with different instruments to play. Coe talked about writing within the English realist tradition involving irony, knowingness and some self interrogation. Benni spoke of surprise, doubt and complexity being necessary ingredients of comedy. For Coe, humour and comedy are means of deflecting fears and neuroses in society - and sometimes for neutralising criticism.
Both spoke of their development as writers - Benni growing up in a small mountain town playing football and using the library; Coe in Birmingham. Benni's first hero as a writer was Edgar Allen Poe; Coe was interested in the Sherlock Holmes stories, and subsequently in Henry Fielding's Tom Jones.
Coe spoke of his appreciation of  Benni's  comedy in 'Margherita Dolce Vita' . In its criticism of mindless consumerism it reminded him of the comedy of Jacques Tati in the films 'Playtime' and 'Mon Oncle'. Reacting,  Benni said he admired Tati, but for him a much greater influence was Dario Fo.
Benni described how writing Margherita Dolce Vita came about; he met young girls who found it difficult  to be non conformist at school, which led him to reflect on how life must be these days for an intelligent young girl. 
As a writer, Benni's happiest moment was when he found his 10 year old son reading one of his books.
After the dialogue, the two writers attended a dinner in their honour at the home of the Italian Cultural Attaché, Professor Pierluigi Barrotta.

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