THE 2013 GRANTA LIST: THE CRYSTAL BALL (AND WHAT TO DO WITH IT?)

Granta is a British literary magazine (and publisher) that earned much notoriety, and kudos, back in 1983 for publishing a list of 20 ‘young’ British novelists (under 40) assumed to become soon literary stars. Granta got many of the names right, and the first list remains still today a monument to literary clairvoyance: it boasted among the chosen would-be-stars Martin Amis, William Boyd, Maggie Gee, Kazuo Ishiguro, Adam Mars-Jones, Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes, Pat Barker, Buchi Emecheta, Ian McEwan, Graham Swift, Rose Tremain, Christopher Priest… Granta’s crystal ball also worked very well for the 1993 list, though they cheated a little by including a certain amount of overlapping, a debatable practice maintained since then. Nonetheless, names as important today as Hanif Kureishi, Ben Okri, Caryl Phillips, Will Self, Iain Banks, Louis de Bernières, A. L. Kennedy, Alan Hollinghurst and Jeanette Winterson were included in it. 2003 brought a third list, again stunning, including Monica Ali, Rachel Cusk, Hari Kunzru, Toby Litt, David Mitchell, Andrew O’Hagan, Alan Warner, Sarah Waters…

Presumably the fourth list, just published this week, will work as well as the previous ones. Adam Thirwell and Zadie Smith were already present in 2003 (before they had even published a novel…) but I simply have no idea at all who the rest are: Naomi Alderman, Tahmima Anam, Ned Beauman, Jenni Fagan, Adam Foulds, Xiaolu Guo, Sarah Hall, Steven Hall, Joanna Kavenna, Benjamin Markovits, Nadifa Mohamed, Helen Oyeyemi, Ross Raisin, Sunjeev Sahota, Taiye Selasi, Kamila Shamsie, David Szalay and Evie Wyld.

My own ignorance worries me, as I’m familiar with 90% of the names in the three previous lists and may have read 75% of those writers. Is this a sign that I personally have lost touch with developments in British Literature?? Or is it a sign that the newest in British Literature is lost among lots of noise?… Oh, yes, by the way, the list is, for the first time, dominated by women. Kamila Shamsie seems to be the most controversial choice because she’s Pakistani-born and not yet a British citizen.

Borrowing shamelessly from The Guardian (https://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/apr/15/granta-list-british-novelists/print) I learn that the 20 names, selected from a long list of 150, complete “an extremely international list: the writers’ backgrounds –and storytelling interests– include China, Nigeria, Ghana, the US, Bangladesh and Pakistan.” I also learn that “Ned Beauman’s inclusion will not surprise fans of the precociously playful, genre-bending author of The Teleportation Accident; and Adam Foulds has impressed readers with novels including A Quickening Maze, about the poet John Clare.” Ah, well… of course, of course. One of the judges highlights that these young writers “are less wedded to nationality than writers have ever been before.”

Writers that were excluded but should perhaps be in the list include Jon McGregor, Joe Dunthorne, Peter Hobbes, Nick Laird… Those not eligible (too old) include China Miéville, Mohsin Hamid, Rana Dasgupta, Hisham Matar and Scarlett Thomas. It makes perfect sense to me that the list reflects the demographic variety of 21st century Britain, also that British fiction is no longer confined to the territory of Britain. This has been going on actually for quite a while, maybe even for the last ten years, with the Granta list arguably working as a turning point in the consolidation of the cosmopolitan British novel. This is why, in a way, whether the writers included are British or not is somehow a moot point.

I do not, however, what to do with all this information. I have the same feeling as with the Man Booker Prize: the names won’t stay with me, I don’t feel motivated to buy the novels. I should maybe blame Amazon.co.uk for my lethargy, as every time I check the readers’ opinions about a book I might like, I find negative comments. Usually complaining about the overblown hype, the pretentiousness of the writing… and wondering why the book has been praised at all.

The Teleportation Accident, which sounds like the kind of novel I would enjoy, has 7 readers granting it only 2 stars. One defines it as ‘all style, no substance’, another calls it ‘overwritten and fake.’ The highest-rated reviewer (he gives it 3 stars) confesses that “I’m genuinely not sure whether to say it’s a marvel or a misfire.” Before the crisis, I would have risked the 9 pounds it costs but, now, being the proud owner of an e-book reader with which I’m reading plenty of freely available classics, I hesitate…Um that must be why I’m losing touch…

PS: Check the Wikipedia entry for Granta, and see if you recognise any of the 2010 list of ‘Young Spanish Language Novelists’… before you decide whether the problem is that we care less and less for writers at a time when there are more new ones than ever.

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