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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 22 February 2013
One of the more surprising aspects of Granta's "Britain" edition is the dominance of fiction here. Given the subject matter, one might have expected Granta's non-fiction pieces to be more in evidence, but thankfully the quality of the fiction here is generally of a high standard.

The subject matter varies, as does the time frame. In non-fiction terms both Gary Younge's opening piece on growing up in the new town of Stevenage and Andrea Stuart's look at what it was like for a teenage girl to be transported from the Carribean to live in the UK and the racism she encountered are both beautifully written and thoughtful pieces. I confess that I'm somewhat at a loss to how Nikolai Khalezin and Natalia Kalida's piece on the Belarus Free Theatre fits within an edition entitled "Britain" though.

In fiction terms, the best pieces for me are by those I was not expecting to enjoy so much, while those I was looking forward to reading, largely left me disappointed. Adam Foulds' "Dreams of a Leisure Society" is a story of a dreamer, scrounger, drug adict and Jon McGregor's piece on a missing child on the moors are satisfying enough without being particularly memorable. The usually reliable Jim Crace extract entitled "Enclosure" did nothing for me though.

For me the stand out fiction, and certainly the most enjoyable to read, is the darkly funny "Some Other Katherine" by Sam Byers. He perfectly captures the character of his lead character and her rather dreary life and sordid romantic encounters. "Lion and Panther in London", a story of two Indian wrestlers by Tania James also stayed with me longer than others here. Mark Haddon's "The Gun" is a story of childhood adventures with, well you've guessed it. Also intriguing is Mario Vargas Llosa's "The Celt", an extract from a novel about a man in the early 1900s who is imprisoned for helping the Irish cause.

If you prefer the non-fiction elements of Granta, this might be one to avoid, but overall, it's an interesting collection that covers a lot of aspects of British-ness.
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You could take the first and last pieces of writing in this edition of Granta (one (by Gary Younge)is an account of growing up as a young black man in the commuter town of Stevenage, the other (by Adam Foulds) a story about a would-be deep-sea diver with a drug problem) as symptoms of the strange malady of being British.

Often the British would prefer to be English, Scottish, Irish or Welsh, but what about Scottish and Black, or Irish and Chinese? To be British is to be part of an unravelling garment that no one wants to wear. I'm English, but I could claim other allegiances - I have two Irish grandmothers, so there's some Celtic blood in there too, and some other ancestors have peculiar lineages. Neverthless, I am white, implacably and profoundly, I feel, and as a result I am terminally unfashionable. A bit like Ross Raisin's footballer in 'When You Grow Into Yourself' and like Roger Casement, I suppose, who is the subject of Maria Vargas Llosa's short story 'The Celt' some things are counted as shameful, even when they are not.

In one sense everything collected here might be termed history, or perhaps geo-history, something anyway that refers to ways of living that have been experienced in defiance of all that might be described as good or even entirely sane. In 'Enclosure' by Jim Crace, changes to the land are plotted as two men watch the harvest being gathered in; the truth dawns that the master of these fields means, "against his promises" to enclose the land, clear the commons and turn the fields over to sheep. In 'The Dig', by Cynan Jones, being an ordinary, gangling teenager whose father takes you badger hunting, is a long-standing practice, the `skills' handed down, no matter how much the civilised majority and uninitiated wish it to be stopped. But the whole of history is contained in the phrase - "We must stop this happening." In 'Sugar In The Blood' Andrea Stuart writes about her own understanding of the sugar trade and how it underpinned the establishment of wealth for English speculators and plantation owners, which, in turn, underpinned the practice of slavery. If much of this turns the stomach, it is universal among practices bringing change to mean life will be worse for the mass of men and women. You'd think we'd know that by now, wouldn't you?

This is a contentious, being a partly didactic edition of Granta; perhaps something that defies reason by trying to define the shifting amorphous territory of being British? The British and their bloody teacups! But the broken teacup does resonate. It damned-well should be broken, and better if it could be ground down to a powder to make a new and slightly less-crazed glass through which to see ourselves.
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on 13 April 2015
As is usual with Grants a great collection of essays both fictional & factual. Not sure why one of them qualified to come under the heading Britain other than its authorship, nevertheless a quality collection.
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on 5 January 2013
One of the best Grantas I can remember. Not a weak link in it. Not a single writer that I'd heard of (well, OK, Tom Stoppard, but that's only a foreword) and every one of them I shall be looking out for from now on. Buy it!
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on 13 June 2015
Enjoyed almost all of this marvellous package of words, places, people, feelings and life in Britain, them and now. Read it right through in one shot. Some interesting journalistic, descriptive pieces (just ordered a book by Robert Macfarlane); also some very strong fiction, some too strong for my stomach (two kids playing with a loaded gun!); and some romantic stuff as well (loved the story about Katherine).
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on 11 June 2012
Bought this, having found the preview really interesting. Wasn't prepared for the sudden obscenity of one of the other articles. Couldn't delete it quick enough.
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