Review – Granta 115: The F Word by John Freeman

TITLE: GRANTA 115: The F Word
EDITOR: John Freeman
PUBLISHER: Granta (12 Addison Ave.London, W11 4QR, U.K.) (1 June 2011)
ISBN: 978 1 905881 34 5         272 pages.

Reviewed by Ann Skea ([email protected]).

Buy Granta 115: The F Word by John Freeman here…

GRANTA, if you have not met it before, is one of the very best literary magazines. It has no manifesto but it “believes in the power and urgency of the story both in fiction and non-fiction”. Since 1979, it has consistently published the best writing of new and established authors, and many who made their debut in Granta have gone on to become well-known. In recent years, photo-journalism and poetry have become a regular part of Granta’s offerings and it has begun to publish the work (in English) of writers from around the world. Frequently, too, it publishes large samples of work-in-progress which will shortly be published in full by major publishing houses.

I have been a reader of Granta for many years now and generally each issue has a theme. Selecting at random from earlier issues, I find ‘The Best Young Writers’, ‘Travel’, ‘History’, ‘The Best New Nature Writing’ and, from 1980, ‘The End of the English Novel’, which includes chapters from a new work by Salman Rushdie calledMidnight’s Children, and contributions from Angela Carter, Russell Hoban, Alan Sillitoe, and Emma Tennant, amongst others.

Granta 115, ‘The F Word’, with its theme of feminism is an issue to which I was not initially attracted but, as usual, the contents are surprising, entertaining and thought -provoking. What is new about Feminism? How radical do you have to be to be called a feminist? Aren’t all women feminists? Has feminism in earlier times changed anything in the world? All the usual questions are raised but in interesting and unusual ways.

There are the thoughts of a Japanese migrant woman adapting, with her children, to a new culture. There are the childhood perceptions of an African women in a male-dominated world. There is a man’s perspective (written by a woman); a poem about Ariadne, her god/lover and an empty tomb; a lesbian encounter; and the view of the ‘other woman’ in an adulterous relationship. Most vivid, terrible and extraordinary is the account of the experiences of a group of French women who, in 1942, were arrested on suspicion of having links with the French Resistance and who were held in  the Nazi death camp, Birkenau. Through mutual support, fifteen of the thirty-five women arrested survived.

Louise Erdrich explores enslavement. Laura Bell describes her feelings about willingly giving up her independence to be a so-called “kept woman”. Clarissa d’Arcimoles’ photo-essay recreates and compares childhood photographs with shots of the same family members fifteen years later. And to prove that things have changed for women in the world, A.S Byatt recalls being told by a male lawyer that “women can’t be ambassadors”  when, as a teenager, she expressed this ambition.

For a complete list of the contents of this and earlier issues you can go to the Granta Home page at www.granta.com/Magazine/. And there you can also sample some of the stories – be they fiction, non-fiction, essays, memoir, poetry or reportage.

Copyright © Ann Skea 2011
Website and Ted Hughes pages: http://ann.skea.com/