Tales of the City; Books: Writing His New London Novel, Author Jeremy Gavron Finds That the Genre at Its Best Has Always Been Multicultural

By Gavron, Jeremy | The Evening Standard (London, England), June 30, 2003 | Go to article overview

Tales of the City; Books: Writing His New London Novel, Author Jeremy Gavron Finds That the Genre at Its Best Has Always Been Multicultural


Gavron, Jeremy, The Evening Standard (London, England)


Byline: JEREMY GAVRON

IT is a writer's worst nightmare to open a newspaper, or walk into a bookshop, and see there reviewed, or displayed, the very book you have been working on for the past two years, written by someone else. This is what happened to me, or in a moment of panic I thought what had happened, when I read about Monica Ali's Brick Lane a few months ago. I was - am still - writing a novel about Brick Lane. Its provisional title was Brick Lane. As might be imagined, I felt sick.

As I read more about Monica Ali's book, however, I stopped feeling sick and though, after buying it, the novel sat for a couple of weeks unread on my bedside table, when I did start reading it I was soon carried away by the story and characters. This was partly because Brick Lane is impossible to dislike and partly because our books are so different.

Hers is the tale of a Bangladeshi family over the past 20 years. Mine is a fictional tour of the history of Brick Lane, written in a mosaic of connected stories. Only a small part of my novel concerns Bangladeshis (though I do, as Monica Ali does, have a character involved with heroin called Tariq).

But I was also freed to enjoy her book by the realisation that the coincidence of our two Brick Lane novels is not, it seems to me, a coincidence.

It is the kind of synchronicity that often happens with art. Two, or more, writers come to the same story at the same time because it is a story crying out to be told. A story that needs to be told. And this is the case, I think, with Brick Lane - not only Brick Lane, but other parts of London: Brixton, Tottenham, Zadie Smith's Willesden.

In Dickens's time the London novel was the great city novel. Dickens's London was dense and rich with colour, people, noise, smells. All of life existed here. But then something happened. In the 20th century the great city novel moved to Joyce's Dublin, Bellow's Chicago - even Welsh's Edinburgh.

London fiction became small-scale, suburban. The most notable piece of London literature of the last century was TS Eliot's The Waste Land, and even that, with its images of commuters flowing over London Bridge, its concern with rats, has something small-minded and suburban about it.

More recently, Martin Amis's London Fields, published in 1989, was a deliberate attempt to write a great London novel. But for all its stylistic brilliance - its efforts to capture a modern London language - London Fields strains too hard, with its apocalyptic vision, its landscape of gargoyles, for a Dickensian grandeur that it does not quite reach.

William Boyd's Armadillo (1998) is also a London novel, replete with sweeping descriptions of the city, and what is interesting here is that Boyd makes his protagonist the son of Romanian immigrants.

A decade ago I spent two years working in a prison as a writer-inresidence and I was struck then by how many of the stories I was given to read were by men trying to make sense of growing up between two cultures. The prison was near London and it was filled with young men of West Indian, Turkish, Pakistani and Colombian origin.

Their writing was mostly not very good - these were men who had lost the plot of their own lives - though it was always lively, the language colourful and expressive. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Tales of the City; Books: Writing His New London Novel, Author Jeremy Gavron Finds That the Genre at Its Best Has Always Been Multicultural
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.