It’s not a book, so I shan’t provide a review as if it were one, but over the last few days I have been reading the fourth version of Granta’s Best Of Young British Novelists.
There were several pieces that caught my eye (predictably, postmodern, picaresque ‘Slow Motion’ by Adam Thirlwell), what struck me more than anything was the… detachment, a lot of the time, displayed by the pieces. Stylistically, I mean. All the pieces were well written, often emotionally powerful (stand outs were Somalia-set ‘Filsan’ by Nadifa Mohamed and ‘Arrivals’ by Sunjeev Sahota, a piece about immigrant labourers in the north of England), and although a couple did veer towards the silly (‘Glow’ by Ned Beauman) and the CLIFFHANGER SO YOU BUY MY NOVEL (‘The End of Endings’ by Steven Hall), all displayed a consummate… writerliness… that could also be considered a lack of strong authorial voice.
Now, I’ve espoused on this blog my likes and interests in fiction, I’m very much a 20th century man, and there were many stories out of these twenty that felt almost… I don’t know, I don’t want to say any were bad, none were, but there were many that could have had the author’s names swopped around and it would have been impossible to tell. Not all of them, at all. Similes recurred, for example, similar ideas were explored… As someone preparing to take a Creative Writing postgraduate course, this edition of Granta did slightly fill me with the worry that there is a set way to write well, or (if there isn’t), the literary establishment now seems to think there is.
I don’t want style to become uniform. In the works I write or the works I read. I have felt much more variety and freshness in the issues of Granta I have read in the past. This magazine, sadly, has filled me with the notion that writing is becoming thought of more as a craft than as an art. Which it shouldn’t be.