The members of the Bangalore Book Club were introduced to the Granta 2013 event, being held by the British council Library by our very dear president Rekha Rau. So, the premise of the event is simple enough. The Granta 123 contains short stories and excerpts from published or forthcoming novels by the best of Young British Novelists – according to the Granta Magazine ( which has a fascinating history by the way) who incidentally have a reputation for picking up Booker prize winners. Most of the writers featured in the book are making a trip to India during the next 4 months and the British Council Library has organised this reading club, where members will read and discuss the short stories/ excerpts and then will have an opportunity to talk/ ask questions to the writers themselves either live or through Skype when they eventually arrive in the country. It is a pretty eclectic group and I must say everyone is really passionate about their reading and views which became apparent when the atmosphere grew pretty tense one or twice during the discussions. An assembly of nerds- perfect!
So for the first session we discussed Adam Foulds, Ned Beauman and Ross Raisin. Two of them were too ‘post-modern’ for my tastes; yet, I definitely understand the power of their writing skills.
We began with a short story titled ‘Submersion’ by Ross Raisin. It was pretty confusing till you get to the end. As a lady in the group pointed out, there are clues in the beginning that you wonder seem disjointed from the story, think about them a little bit and then move on, only to have the ‘Aha’ moment at the very end. Most people found the story too raw and disturbing and desolate for their liking. I didn’t like it much either but it disturbed me enough to realize it was actually a powerful piece of writing. From what I understood of the writer’s intention, it’s about a son’s guilt for not caring enough for his old father and feeling ashamed and embarrassed by his origins in a small provincial village. Nothing is ever mentioned explicitly enough and yet one gets a pretty definite idea of what the writers wants to convey.
Next, we moved on to Adam Foulds, ‘A World Intact’. This was one story that I actually liked and felt a connection with immediately. It had a simple enough story about a young man, Will, just back home from his Army training and about to embark on his first experience of war. He comes from a small idyllic village with a younger brother and mother at home. The father was a decorated war hero and Will wants nothing more than to emulate him. And you see the young man/ almost kid raring to go to war, feeling misunderstood and suffocated in his little home, itching for the glory that will be his in the war and does not really know what is in store for him. Most readers felt that his relationship with his mother is skewed and that she is extremely icy in her farewell to him when he eventually leaves, but I respectfully disagree. I think the young man fails to understand the mother’s pain of watching her son go off to the war, knowing what it will eventually do to him and he is simply young and I hope one day he will understand her reserve, reluctance and fear. I thought his younger brother was an absolute dear too. I would definitely like to read the whole story to find out if Will eventually realizes what a beautiful world he left behind, even if it was too simple and far removed from the so-called ‘real’ world.
The last story was by Ned Beauman, called ‘Glow’. This one I really didn’t like at all. It seemed just too in your face and too full of drugs. Most people liked that story a lot and I just couldn’t understand the charm at all. They waxed lyrical about the author’s poetical language when he described the effects of the crystal meth that the main protagonist is preparing and I was the odd man out or woman, if one want’s to be politically correct, (apart from one other member who was shocked by all the homosexuality). The main character, is an extremely poor boy, growing up in Bangkok, who decides to have sexual relations with his employer to better his life. He later has an affair with another man and discovers a new drug and all before he is 16 years old. The boy is definitely a genius and is therefore suitably detached from human attachments. Like someone mentioned in the discussion – his real love affair was with the drugs. I mentioned at this point that most genius are really bad at social relationships in real life and it was usually difficult for the average, middle – class human to understand, to which a member took considerable umbrage. She whipped around and told me there was no such thing as a ‘middle-class’ mentality. Really? How can one say that? Are you not bound by the moral and social conventions that bind those of us in the middle of the economic strata? The poor have no time for the social/ moral inhibitions and the rich have no need. How can an educated person fail to understand this very simple idea? And true genius may of course come from any strata, but they too can only be great if they are not bound by the politics and the rigmarole of deep human attachments and sentiments. Also, someone else mentioned that the first guy was a gangster and a paedophile and the second one was the true love. But then, to be honest, true love or not, a man having relations with a 15 year-old boy would be a paedophile as well if one is going to be fair ( middle-class ideals again).
So, yes the discussions were warm, passionate and thought-provoking. Reactions to stories bring out our deepest beliefs and predilections and with so many people and so many views it does give one pause, to stop and examine a point that a reader would probably not have thought about on their own.