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Surprisingly heavy on fiction given the title - but generally high standard
on 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.