April 18, 2013
Get to know Granta’s new novelists
by Zeljka Marosevic
We know, it’s tough. You’ve only just now managed to finish Midnight’s Children and Granta goes and announces its list of Best of Young British Novelists. 20 new writers you should have read, but you’ve only heard of five of them (and Zadie Smith).
What to do?
Never fear, Granta has devised a way for you to get to know each author’s work without having to read a single page of it. By commissioning photographer Nadav Kander to make photographic portraits of each of the novelists, every writer is captured uniquely—some might say bizarrely—in what looks like a prison cell made entirely out of linen, lit only by a single, fast depleting candle. These atmospheric shots are presumably meant to capture the essence of the writer and their writerly methods and the portraits give us some clue as to how the finalists were chosen—all twenty authors are rare for being the only writers in England who write by candlelight in a padded room, sometimes with only a lonely pen in front of them. There isn’t a MacBook in sight.
Below, we examine some of the photos to better understand the novelists, and their work. To see the photos we’re referring to click the link in the author’s name or check out the entire slideshow over at the New York Times‘ website.
Helen Oyeyemi: Oyeyemi’s novels all feature protagonists who are secret pyromaniacs. The theme has influenced her writing practice so much so that she is compelled to set fire to her manuscript before handing it into her editor. She entertained guests at the list’s announcement when she set Julian Barnes’s tie alight.
Kamila Shamsie: Shamsie’s latest novel follows a young woman who, after enjoying her stay at a five star hotel, comes to believe that the complimentary bathrobe gives her supernatural powers. These include making chocolates appear on her pillow using only her eyes and unlimited access to mini bottles of liquor, with the novel culminating in a drunken and sugar fuelled police chase in which she realises, too late, her expensive error.
Xialou Guo: Gou’s novel, 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth, centres around a group of characters all haunted by a giant baby who appears from out of nowhere, just as they are sitting down to dinner. This leaves them all, literally, ravenous.
Zadie Smith: The hologram formerly known as Zadie Smith is working on a series of novelistic QR codes
Joanna Kavenna: Kavenna uses a collage method to compose her novels. She scours poetry readings for unattended moleskins, takes them home and stares deeply into space until an idea emerges from the pile of broken literary dreams.
David Szalay: David Szalay cites the character of Macbeth as his greatest inspiration. He carries a ragged, bloody cloth in his pocket at all times.
Zeljka Marosevic is the managing director of Melville House UK.