The latest addition to my website is Sunjeev Sahota‘s Ours are the Streets. Sahota is one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists. The novel is the notebooks of a young Englishman of Pakistani origin who moves from being a normal young man, interested in getting on at university, sex, recreational drugs and bettering himself who, after a visit to Pakistan (to accompany the body of his late father) changes into a suicide bomber. While in Pakistan, he is taken by family members and friends to Afghanistan where he sees first-hand and on video what the West is doing to Muslims and decides that being a suicide bomber is the only way. Sahota tells his story well but I was less than convinced that this was the writing of someone who is the future of the British novel.
I had read three of the novelists before Granta announced their list. I now have read three more in the past week or so. The three were picked arbitrarily and come from different backgrounds – an Englishwoman who has spent a lot of time in Australia, a Scottish woman whose childhood was spent in care homes and foster care who does not know anyone she is related to and an Englishman of Punjabi origin. Each has written one novel, though Evie Wyld has another one coming out next month. What was interesting was the similarity between the three novels.
- All were about outcasts
- The four main characters (there are two main characters in After the Fire, a Still Small Voice) had committed or were about to commit acts of violence against other people
- With one possible exception, all had trouble with romantic relationships
- All of them make a journey away from their place of origin and this journey has a profound influence on their life
- All have conflict with their parents, except for Anais Hendricks who has no parents but criticises the mother she never knew
Anyone coming from Mars and handed these three novels as representative of British culture, would be horrified and would assume that Britain was bleak, violent and falling apart. This, of course, may well be the case. While it is clearly difficult to judge on first novels (see, for example, some of these), none of these made me think that these writers are going to be the greats of years to come. I will, naturally, be happy to be proved wrong.