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Granta’s Best

In response to:

O Ye Laurels from the August 8, 1996 issue

To the Editors:

David Lodge, in his thoughtful review of Granta‘s special issue, “The Best of Young American Novelists,” expresses puzzlement at something that Ian Jack wrote in the preface to that issue. Mr. Jack had stated that one of the Granta judges, namely me, “could not be traced by phone or fax during the judging, and has spoken to no judge since.” The facts are more pedestrian, and less mysterious.

I have great regard for Granta, which published my first literary essay when I was a graduate student at Cambridge in the mid-Seventies, and so I agreed to serve as the fifth judge—a last-minute substitute for another judge, who, I had been told, belatedly resigned. In the event, my schedule made it impossible for me to make the dates that the project director, Rose Marie Morse, had selected for our deliberations. I asked her whether I might at least participate in the deliberations via telephone, but was told this could not be arranged. At Ms. Morse’s suggestion, I spoke to Robert Stone (in his capacity as “national judge”) after the meeting, and told him that since I wasn’t able to participate in the deliberations, I would abide by the decision of my fellow judges. I also expressed my regret that I could not be present at the meeting.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Cambridge, Massachusetts

David Lodge replies:

Mr. O’Nan is quite right to point out that the narrator’s references to Stephen King in his novel-extract are overtly intertextual, and I apologize for overlooking that fact in my summary list of formal features not to be found in Granta‘s “Best of Young American Novelists” issue. It is true that those references are also in part metafictional, but I remarked on the absence of “metafictional framebreaking” [italics added] from the collection, by which I mean a radical subversion within the text of the illusion of reality that has been created for the main narrative. I do not find anything of this sort in Mr. O’Nan’s piece. Of course in this respect, as in the rest of his characterization of the novel, he has the advantage over me of knowing the whole of it. I did however describe the section I read as “impressive,” and I am delighted that he is optimistic about the prospects of the novel’s publication. I read Professor Gates’s letter with interest, but it does not call for any comment from me.

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