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.
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
Publication: Granta Books (2009), Hardback, 352 pages
A page about the book on the Granta website