Granta #81. Best of young British novelists 2003
I was almost going to let it be 2013 until I read this book…but sometimes, one has to make an effort to read even the books one has owned for 2 years (and of whose covers one is already bored to death 😀 ). This whole “one” thing is very tiring.
It started out as a bit of a “chore”; I had to read it, and for the first pages, it did feel like homework. But then I started enjoying it. The book is basically composed of 20 short stories, written by 20 up-and-coming British novelists. Of course, a couple of them are now household names (even for me), and others are slightly more obscure. The only difference it makes, in the end, is how much i was surprised (or disappointed) by their works. (For the full list and a couple of texts, you can go here.)
Overall, it’s an engaging read. The characters are diverse and colourful, probably a reflection of the multicultural space that Britain has become. And there’s a lot of action and dialogue, a lot of moving, a lot of happening, and only brief descriptions – something which I enjoy for the most part, but which after a certain point becomes tiresome. In the “Introduction”, Ian Jack, a member of the jury that chose the 20 “finalists” notes that (and this is an approximate translation I’m making now) “The novels of the young British writers […] prove an energy, freedom and variety […] that many countries would envy, even the US, where literature is more professional and disciplined.” Still, I couldn’t help reading in the tiny bio that precedes each story that most of these writers attended creative writing courses; some even have their masters degree in Creative Writing. So, I have to wonder, what is this, if not some sort of professionalising literature, of….(umm…) breeding? I mean, you take a person of mediocre talent and help him/her make the best of it. Which is great, in essence, but which can also (I think) lead to some sort of inflation of such novelists…right? Anyways, enough with the thinking 😉
My biggest disappointment was Sarah Waters. Since Kiran Desai’s win at the Bookers over Ms. Waters was so controversial, I wanted to read “Night watch”, to see what it’s all about. Now, I’m quite sure I’m not going to. “Helen and Julia” was bland. I can’t find a better word for it…it was bland, boring and pointless. 😦
On the otherside, there’s Monica Ali; whose short story involves a young immigrant couple from Bangladesh (I have developed a certain inclination towards British authors of Asian descent 😉 ), Dan Rhodes (how can you get past a dog named Timoleon Vieta? I’d love to read the full novel “Timoleon Vieta come home”), David Mitchell and Peter Ho Davies (apparently his fragment is part of a unpublished novel – which I hope will get published – about a German immigrant, half-Jew, who gets the chance, as part of the British army, to interrogate Rudolf Hess).
My absolute favorite, however, is a fragment called “The Dreamed” by Robert McLiam Wilson; also part of a yet-unpublished and long-delayed novel (The Extremists). A man wakes up, every other day, next to a stranger, for 50 years of so. What seems at first an example of questionable behaviour, turns out to be a “habit” (as the old man likes to call it) – some kind of gift. The men he wakes next to…well, they are simply returned from their graves. Soldiers (only) who fell in battle, from WWI to more recent and wars, men of all nationalities and ages. I simply liked it, I can’t explain why really, it took me back to my highschool years, when I used to be fascinated by Mircea Eliade. I may be way off here, but this short story reminded me a lot of him 🙂
In the end, it’s definitely worth reading; and I’d really like to see what the Young Americans are like (before they turn to classics 😛 ) but I’m not really sure where I can find that Granta issue. But I take suggestions 😉