Review – Are We Related? Granta Books

This is the 200th full-length review I’ve published on A Common Reader.  A sort of milestone. . .

I have been subscribing to Granta magazine for quite a few years now and enjoy its quality writing on a vast range of subjects.  Its a well-produced journal, not the sort of thing you want to throw away, and I find with most editions that there are one or two articles which still in my mind and make me want to come back to them, often years later.  Articles (both fiction and factual) are written by a wide range of writers, including such notables Jonathan Raban, Peter Carey, Salman Rushdie, Lionel Shriver, Paul Auster, Elaine Showalter and countless others.

Every so often a book comes your way which is satisfying in many different ways.  In Are We Related? The New Granta Book of the Family the writing is excellent and the variety of pieces is sufficiently wide that every one comes as a surprise when you read it.  The physicality of the book is pleasing – it feels big and substantial, the typeface and layout work well.  Its a book you can dip in and out of and as you read it, you know its going to remain on your shelf to be dipped in and out of for years to come.

Liz Jobey (Associated Editor of Granta) has selected 27 pieces about the family, taken from Granta magazines from 1995 to the present day, all of which, whether fiction of non-fiction, explore the complexity of family relationships and the stresses and strains they generate (and occasional joys).

The range is vast, covering as many aspects of family life as I can think of.  We have John Lanchester describing his father’s early retirement,  Diana Athill describing an early end to a pregnancy, and A L Kennedy describing her boxing grandfather.  There are so many pieces which stick in the mind its hard to know which one’s to mention.  Linda Grant’s description of shopping with her dementia-afflicted mother is both funny and wise and leads inevitably to the day she has to go into a nursing home.  The second piece in the book, Bicycle Thieves by Blake Morrison, tells how following the theft of his son’s bicycle, Blake tries to retrieve it from a poor London estate, but only causes huge embarrassment for himself in a way which I’d love to describe, but can’t for fear of ruining the piece for anyone else.

Granta magazines

There are some  lovely pieces here – Orhan Pamuk writing about his youth, scheming to avoid childhood vaccinations and gambling with his brother for cigarette cards as stakes.  Or Hilary Mantel using a story about pet dogs as a way-in to writing about real childhood griefs and fears.  I particularly liked Tim Park’s (see my earlier review) piece, “Paulo” about a mother’s relationship over 25 years with her schizophrenic son.

And yet although these pieces might appear to be too diverse for the book to have any sense of unity, it is Granta’s editor’s particular skill to select those which somehow complement each other.  Although the book consists of many different styles and subjects, there is a unity about it all, and the overall message is that family life though difficult is maintained by the complexity and variety of  human relationships at its heart.

I am pleased I have this book and would recommend it to anyone who appreciates good writing and enjoys shorter pieces as a change from longer, more time-consuming novels.

Title: Are We Related? The New Granta Book of the Family
Editor: Liz Jobey
: Granta Books (2009), Hardback, 352 pages
ISBN: 9781847081124

Newspaper Reviews

Marianne Brace in The Independent
Cassandra Jardine in The Daily Telegraph
Ian Thomson in The Guardian

A page about the book on the Granta website

14 thoughts on “Review – Are We Related? Granta Books

  1. Congratulations on your blogpost bicentenary, Tom – and here’s to the next!
    Haven’t looked at Granta since the days of Bill Buford; it’s great to see standards are still so high, and this collection sounds enticing. Especially pleased to see Diana Athill included. My parents had a copy of her first memoir (‘Intead of a Letter’), and its quiet power continues to resonate decades later.


    • Minnie – yes, Diana Athill is a remarkable lady isn’t she – there was a documentary about her on tv last week – a very sparky lady with quite a bit of vim and vigour about her to this day.


  2. Congrats on your posting your 200th review, Tom!
    As for Granta, I have always enjoyed their work. They have such interesting and well written pieces. This one in particular that you mention sounds great – I like the idea of reading about the various aspects of family and how diverse these pieces sound. Great review!


    • Nadia- thanks for visiting. the reviews just keep stacking up don’t they – two or three posts a week and they just accumulate. kimbofo of reading matters has a counter on hers showing over 400


  3. Congratulations – 200 reviews is definitely a milestone worth remembering! Question: how do you count them?
    I must admit that I have a love hate relationship with Granta. Sometimes I think they are just wonderful and then I go off them again. How fickle! I’ve got a row of Granta’s when I subscribed, some loose ones that I bought because they looked interesting and then for long periods of time I simply ignore them. Why? Well, I think there is probably just too much to read and hence my love-hate relationship. I really envy you having the time and dedication to read them all. Because they are of high standard. No denying.


    • Hi seachanges – I know what you mean about Granta. I usually store them up until I’m in a reading lull, or sometimes wait until I’m on a long journey when its great to dip in and out of.

      Re counting my posts – you may have seen the title index link at the top of my blog. I keep a duplicate of it in a text file. I use the free program Notepad++ instead of Microsoft Notepad and this numbers the lines. So I don’t even have to count them up – I just maintain the index.


  4. Congrats on the review milestone! 200 books is not a small thing! :) I haven’t read any Granta books but the one you have recommended here sounds good… And shorter pieces, as you said, are sometimes more enjoyable.


    • Hi Curious – thanks for the congrats. Well, I’m not on the boat but was actually sailing into the harbour when I took the photograph! Does that count?


  5. Congrats on the 200th post. Sorry I’m a bit late. When I clicked on this post when it first appeared in my inbox the link didn’t work. Glad I tried it again. I’ve seen Granta occasionally and of course have seen its best new writers lists. This though sounds like a lovely collection of articles/stories by some great writers. After all, what is more interesting, really, than family!


    • Sue – Thanks for visiting. Yes, I had to withdraw the post then reissue it. I’m not sure this email notification thing works for someone as careless as me.


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