( My review of the Granta: Best of Young British Novelists 4 was published in the Hindu Literary Review. Online 3 aug 2013 and in print 4 Aug 2013. Here is the url http://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/literature-for-the-facebook-generation/article4985464.ece )
…Qayyum listened to them and tried to imagine telling his mother she should be more like the women of Europe – she’d hit him about the ears with a shoe as if he were still a child.
Without warning, the air became driving rain, and Kalam’s words smeared across the page. Qayyum ducked his head and, as quickly as his fumbling hands could manage, threw the blanket over his head. The day his youngest sister put on a burqa for the first time she wore it backwards, no face mesh for sight or breath, and she had burst into tears until Qayyum lifted it off and put it on the right way round: she was still young enough to throw her arms around him and say, Lala, forget the army, stay here and defend us from our mistakes. …
Kamila Shamsie, “Vipers”, an excerpt from a forthcoming novel.
Best of Young British Novelists 4 is Granta’s once-in-a-decade attempt to identify writers with a promising future. Many of the writers discovered through earlier attempts have gone on to establish glittering literary careers. To name a few – Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro, Iain Banks, Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, HariKunzru, Monica Ali, Jeanette Winterson and Pat Barker. In this
Best of Young British Novelists 4 has a fantastic line-up of writers: Benjamin Markovits, Taiye Selasi, Kamila Shamsie, Nadifa Mohamed, TahmimaAnam, Sunjeev Sahota. Zadie Smith and Adam Thirlwell have the distinction of being in the previous decade’s list too. It is difficult to review a collection that consists of 20 fine literary contributions. Every work included here is distinct in terms of its landscape, atmosphere and plot. The range of stories deal with war in Afghanistan, Somalia, Bangladesh; floods in England; a mother dying of cancer; the realignment (or fluidity) of relationships; details of social networks like family, university friends, employer-employee that in the globalised world are crumbling or evolving (depending upon how you see it) across class, caste, economic, geo-political lines. Sensitive issues like immigration/asylum seekers, xenophobia and religion are tackled head on, yet tactfully.
At times there seems to be a very thin line between reality and fiction with powerful descriptions that lie in the rich complexity of detail. It is literature suitable for the literary palates of the Facebook-generation, netizens who are exposed to different cultures in daily conversations with friends and acquaintances flung around the globe. The young under-40, authors felicitated in Granta 123 are definitely ushering in a new era of writing. And “if they are good enough, novelists are dangerous individuals.” In his Introduction, John Freemanreveals that over 150 authors applied for this distinction. Twenty were selected — 12 women, eight men with women outnumbering the men for the first time. Funnily enough “despite not having discussed the need for diversity, gender balance or multiplicity of background, the selection revealed it to be so.”
The kind of fiction selected marks a tectonic shift in international fiction. These writers are global citizens, comfortable with any part of the world they reside in. Nothing distracts them from their sharp focus on their work. They are sensitively attuned to the cultural differences in every region. They use their command over words, especially in English, to write a form of fiction that is understood, accessed and appreciated by a wider audience; the “readerly” audience that James Freeman rues is fast disappearing. (“We live in unreaderly times.”) The flavour of such literature is that it has a universal appeal it is highly sophisticated and polished, with not a word out of place. It is excellent craftsmanship. It is infused with a great deal of experience at reading, literary interactions, professional conversations and presentations.
In his memoir, Joseph Anton, Salman Rushdie writes about the judging for the Best of Young British Novelists 2, 1993, “It was a passionate, serious debate … Then the list was published and the piranhas of the little pond of the London literary scene went after it….Welcome to English literature, boys and girls.”
Likewise with this volume the literary potential of the 20 anointed writers is discernible, but the maturity of many is as yet to be achieved. It will be honed in the stormy and choppy waters of literature.