The first list
IN 1983, Granta published their first list of the Best Young British Novelists, in an educated guess about the literary future of a generation. They now do this once a decade.
When Andrew Crumey, author of four novels, got a call from Granta to tell him he'd been included in the 2003 list, he was delighted. "That's wonderful," he said to the Granta staffer who'd phoned, "I thought I was too old for the list." Costly admission: his name was removed. Crumey later wrote with restrained rage of having been selected, then precipitately jettisoned, for being born two years too early. Once upon a time, writers grew up first, then wrote about it, he remarked. Now it's the other way round.
That was January 2003. An anthology containing pieces by the chosen writers good, young, and British enough has now been published. Some of the pieces the surreality of amnesia in A.L. Kennedy, the agony of jealousy in Sarah Waters, the macabre results of obsession in Ben Rice makes this a good guide for bookstore regulars.
Since we are a somewhat parochial people, here it is. There are two people of South Asian origin in the list: Monica Ali, of Bangladeshi extraction, whose first book Brick Lane is just out; and Hari Kunzru, author of the overhyped The Impressionist. The extract from his forthcoming novel has a computer virus and its creator as protagonists. It's writing for which you wish you could reproduce a French shrug in print. It'll certainly be published as "the most eagerly awaited book of the season".
As an acerbic Hilary Mantel remarked, "Awaited by whom? ... I am hoping we discover some person who has been toiling in silence... unawaited by anyone except his mum."
Is a young and good-looking writer more successful? Is literary merit obscured by the size of a royalty advance? The Granta list hopes to function "as an independent consumer's guide to novelists" in an age when the pyrotechnics of hype can blind readers. Paradoxically, given the publicity the prestigious list generates, it might just begin to contradict its own intention.
Granta 81, Granta Books, £6.50.
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