British writing

NEW WRITING - An Anthology of recent English Fiction, Poetry and Essay: A. L. Kennedy and John Fowles - Editors; Vintage in association with The British Council, Random House, 20, Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 2SA. �. 7.99.

IN THE making of an anthology, the first stage is smooth and full of hope (or so it will seem), the middle one uneasy with some moments of real terror, and the final one, an inescapable chaos of guilt, pain and non-fulfilment. But this cannot be said of the book under review. For a collection of this magnitude and variety, the book has an extremely short introduction by just one of the editors, and it makes light of the arduous work that must have gone into the assessment and selection of material. The final product is one of consistent excellence.

Among the 50-odd contributors, there is an 80-year-old veteran, Edwin Morgan, with an exquisite poem in the form of a conversation between Omar Khayyam and his assassin-friend; the youngest, Sarah May, barely 28 years of age, with a most original and moving story, ``The Blueprint''. There are many famous, celebrated names and an equal number of not-so-well- known writers but whose stories and poems stand on their own uneclipsed by those of the more seasoned minds.

There are 26 stories, six essays, 30 poems and five extracts from novels in progress, making up a little over 500 pages of stimulating, sophisticated and well-rounded material. So there will be a criticism that the editors had not considered experimental exercises. They have not forsaken modernity but have stayed clear of including efforts the quality or value of which the creators themselves may not be sure of. The collection is ``British writing or more properly writing from authors who feel some relationship with Britain and with the English language'. So there is a story of Anita Desai also''.