Monday, 3 December 2001

Granta 68 & The English

Listening to:

Schubert, piano sonata in A, D959. Beautiful, wistful music.

Just read:

Granta 68: Love stories.

This collection of fiction and non-fiction pieces wasn't spectacular, but just about everything in there was good stuff. (Here's the contents page.) I particularly liked the story by Ruth Gershon about an affair between an English, Jewish woman and a Palestinian man, conducted in Israel (apposite perhaps given the horrible events of the weekend). I also enjoyed the non-fiction account by Keith Fleming about going to live with his gay uncle Edmund White in New York when he was a teenager. The last piece in the collection was another non-fiction account, this time of learning to be a doctor in 70s South Africa. This was very depressing. What amazed me is the inertia seemingly exhibited by most of the whites there; I'd like to think that if I found myself in a similarly screwed up country, and had the means to escape, then I would. Of course, those with the means to escape are often those who see least reason to leave, but I don't know how I could stay and feel complicit in what was going on. And of course, I don't know how many other countries were accepting South African emigrants. Finally, this issue's photo essay was a cool pairing of informal portrait photos from 20 years ago with similarly posed portraits of the same people in the present.

Jeremy Paxman, The English.

I got this book as a Christmas present in 1999, so I feel pleased that I'm back inside the two year gap between acquisition and reading. (I think I was there before starting Ulysses, but that slowed me down no end.) The English is a good read, but isn't very deep. I think it suffers because it doesn't offer any particularly coherent overall thesis. Paxman writes pretty well at the paragraph-to-paragraph level, and includes some neat anecdotes and statistics, but it's all a bit patchy. My guess is that he didn't want to be accused of reverting to stereotypes and generalisations (quite right too), so he is careful to pick out lots of things that point in quite different directions. My problem is that he never really seems to synthesise all this material.

There's lots of neat stuff in the book. I forgot to bring it in with me today, so I can't provide any excerpts, but maybe I'll remember on Wednesday.

Paxman is quite a famous BBC journalist/presenter, and has a bio-page on the BBC web-site.

To read next:

John Fothergill, An innkeeper's diary.

New Zealand have set Australia a target of 371 runs to win the test in Perth on the last day, and Australia have eight wickets left to do it with. Exciting stuff!