Friday, January 18, 2013

Views from abroad

Book: Granta: What Happened to Us? Britain’s Valedictory Realism
Author: various
Published: 1996
Pages: 254

This is the only literary journal I’ll formally review – er, scribble about here. Mostly because I’m trying to break further into the lucrative scene of contributors’ copies, but also because lit mags are relatively ephemeral more part of a continuous conversation that changes faster than books do. So to talk about a single issue is a little unfair but whatever. It’s all I got.

My college dorm had a row of Grantas on its common room bookshelf, where we could take and leave things as we pleased. You better believe I spent a good chunk of my final packing weekend on stealth raids. (Dudes, that’s where I found White Teeth.) This one issue came home with me because I had no idea how it would read and no room to stuff an entire set of quarterlies of unknown quality into my bed sheets.

How did it finally end up reading, almost two years later? Like a really honest British travelogue.

I’m not entirely sure which selections were fictions, which were histories, which were memoir – it all blended together in various proportions. Like, the first one, about a Parliament clerk and his frank tracing of the exploits he recorded and sometimes initiated – that one could’ve been a droll short story about government folly and how maybe it doesn’t matter as much as we think, or a wry memoir from an insider who’s more nostalgic than bitter about the trouble. The thing about Scotland and how its patriotic semi-rallying for independence is different than Ireland for under-the-surface reasons was definitely social commentary backed by historical facts; while the stuff about a man who meanders into becoming a social worker goes from personal to political over a few pages.

Two depressing bits:
  • ·         A photographer’s text describing the vagabond lives of the people whose pictures he took and published in here described how their cheerful wandering morphed into drug-desperate poverty in less than two years.
  • ·         A short story (autobiographical?) about a film director who keeps going back to his wastrel of a friend and sees how pathetic this friend has grown in his 40s by insisting on staying drunk and irresponsible, yet the matured protagonist still looks to this friend as a source of fun and wisdom.

Both of these pieces made me catch a glimpse of how desperate life can be, just surviving or trying to find meaning. I had to put it down and go watch The Next Great Baker (like that actually helps transcend any kind of soul-crushing banalities – ooh, piping!).

Overall, though, I enjoyed this string of glimpses into the U.K. through its writing samples. It’s different now, seeing as how this journal could get a driver’s license if it were a person, but I’m putting it on my bookshelf for posterity.

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