By LUCY DALLAS
Earlier this month, the Villa Gillet in Lyon hosted its first non-fiction festival, Mode d'emploi – A user's guide (a typically ambitious, and literary, name, with its nod to Georges Perec's La vie: Mode d'emploi). They conquered New York recently with a series of programmes called Walls and Bridges; their summer festival (Les Assises Internationales du Roman), which deals with fiction, has been successfully running now for six years, so naturally they turned their attention to – well, everything else. There were performances, talks, readings, round tables and conferences on newsworthy topics such as sexual identity and public policy, surveillance and security, climate change and our relationship with the animal world, but there was also room and time for more abstract debates: does democracy work, does evil really exist, does religion make us free? (the latter was co-chaired by the TLS's very own Rupert Shortt).
Taking part in the debate on climate change was Andri Magnason, who crystallized the growing environmental movement in Iceland with his book Dreamland, which made a detailed, passionate, witty case against the installation of more aluminium smelting plants in his country. The smelting takes an enormous amount of energy – cheap and plentiful in Iceland, thanks to the geothermal currents there – and the process, Magnason contends, lays waste to the countryside. It also makes Iceland's economy dependent on huge multinationals, rather than its own people; Dreamland was written before the banking crash and when we talked in Lyon he was happy to report that since then, one of the putative smelting plants has been stopped and more small businesses and start-ups are developing, trusting in their own energy and initiative.