maanantai 26. toukokuuta 2014

Granta 123: Best of Young British Novelists 4

The first Finnish version of the Granta magazine, Ruoka ("Food"), was published in September 2013. The second edition, Outo ("Weird/Strange") came out in February 2014. The third edition will be published in autumn, just before the Frankfurt Book Fair where Finland is the Guest of Honour. This special edition will feature 20 of the "best" young Finnish novelists, chosen by a panel of judges. The texts published in the third Finnish Granta will also be translated into English for a separate English edition.

I decided to finally see what this Granta business is all about by reading an "original" British edition of the magazine, featuring 20 of the best young British novelists in 2013. Since Granta is officially a magazine, not a book, I tried to read it like a magazine: choosing and picking the texts that I was most interested in. At first, I was meant to read Kamila Shamsie's, Tahmima Anam's, Taiye Selasi's and Zadie Smith's texts, but in the end, I ended up reading 17 out of the 20 texts, just because they were all so good! :)

In addition to regular editions, Granta publishes an edition every 10 years (!) featuring 20 of the best novelists at the time. In the introduction, editor John Freeman explains the long and arduous process of choosing the final 20 novelists that are included in the magazine. Granta has a prestigious history: the magazine has famously "discovered" and published authors such as Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro, Jeanette Winterson and David Mitchell already before they were hugely popular and famous writers. So, no pressure, panel of judges! Readers are just expecting you to tell them which 20 writers are the most promising, up-and-coming young authors that everybody should be keeping an eye on at the moment.

But surely Kamila Shamsie and Zadie Smith, for instance, are already big names in the literary world? Yes, the criteria for choosing the 20 best young British novelists are quite interesting: "young" means anybody under 40 years old, "British" means anybody who has a British passport, and "novelist" means anybody who has published or is about to publish at least one fictional work. A total of 150 authors applied, and the panel spent months and months reading, debating, discussing and narrowing down the list to the final 20, included in the magazine.

So what about the actual texts? They are all short stories or excerpts from new novels. I enjoyed the short stories more; reading bits and pieces from novels was like reading a "teaser" chapter: you are left unsatisfied, wanting to know more. Maybe that's the point of the magazine...

Kamila Shamsie's "Vipers", for example, is an excerpt from a forthcoming novel that I definitely want to read. "Vipers" is about two Pakistani men fighting in the British army during World War I. The men encounter prejudice and injustice when they come to the land that they have fought for. Tahmima Anam's "Anwar Gets Everything" was one of the most memorable texts in the entire magazine: it is set in Dubai, in a community of imported labourers who are building a luxurious skyscraper. "Slow Motion", an excerpt from Adam Thirlwell's novel in progress, was another interesting piece. A man wakes up in a hotel room next to a strange, unconscious girl. Where did she come from? What should he do? What if she's dead? Is it his fault? Should he get help or should he follow his urge and run away?

The only three texts in the magazine that I did not bother to read all the way through were Nadifa Mohamed's, David Szalay's and Sarah Hall's pieces.

It's difficult to sum up the group of texts in any way, because I don't think the 20 texts featured in the magazine have very much in common (except, of course, that they are written by "young", British novelists who are - apparently - the best!). ;) Many of the novels seem to deal with contemporary themes of immigration, cultural interaction, racism or exploitation. The characters are often outsiders in their own community or the place they live in. But other than this, there doesn't seem to be anything that binds the 20 texts together besides the physical covers of the magazine. :) But diversity is good, because is means more surprises and more stepping out of one's comfort zone as a reader.

Let's hope the top-20 novelists in the autumn edition of the Finnish Granta are just as impressive and diverse.

Granta 123: Best of Young British Novelists 4. Edited by John Freeman. Granta Publications. Spring 2013. 395 pages. Granta 123

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