Off the Shelf literacy festival, Sheffield

Celebrating books, words and ideas

What a treat to listen to Rachel Genn and Tara Tobler discussing Genn’s What You Could Have Won this evening, part of this year’s Off the Shelf line-up – and in the comfort of my own armchair, thanks to the technology of the virtual event world.

Representing Genn’s vehicle for regret, the main character in this exuberant, frenetic, addictive read, is Henry Sinclair, a failing psychiatrist, charming, informative, manipulative – and desperate for the recognition he feels he deserves (he doesn’t). The ultimate narcissist with a desire to control others, Genn and Tobler discussed this archetypal ‘anti-hero’, that centres in so many box-sets that find their way into our front rooms – and from where we are ‘eviscerated by them nightly’, to quote Genn.

An Englishman abroad, Henry’s career breaking-discovery is supressed, which leaves him to weed his way to the limelight by transforming girlfriend Astrid into a drug experiment. But who is feeding who?

Multi layered, at its core the novel perhaps focuses on vulnerability. Genn explained very poignantly how Amy Winehouse, and the likes of Janis Joplin, were inspirations behind her character for Astrid: a musician who goes on to achieve stardom yet has to stand in front of herself, and rise from the ashes. Genn notes that Winehouse would have perhaps re-read her own life too, had she lived long enough.

As Genn and Tobler discussed, Envy V Emulation – aka Sin V Deity – is slippery for us all. Genn in What You Could Have Won is a hand for us all to look a little harder at the complexities of our relationships.

With settings in NYC, a Greek Island – and a celebrity rehab facility in Paris no less, the journey promises to be mouth-watering on many fronts…

A scientist for 20 years Genn is the ultimate observer – What You Could Have Won screams brilliance – oh, and bucket loads of female resilience.


MK is proud to support Off The Shelf. For further information and to visit / join one of the many sessions for audiences across our region visit: