The WoMan Booker Prize 2006

September 21, 2006 at 2:17 am Leave a comment

The femininisation of the Booker continues apace: it’s not just the judges (three out of five) or the shortlist (four out of six) but this year the Booker is also in danger of becoming the BookClubber Prize. Several reading groups have been chosen to read the shortlisted titles and their views will be passed onto the judges before their final deliberations. They are also blogging away at the official Man Booker site. Sarah Waters seems to be the favourite among them so far, although I’m not sure whether some of the comments are serious or ironic, especially this one:

“There’s just not enough books about Lesbian relationships during the blitz !” (undertow)

The trouble I have with Sarah Waters is that although she is a very good writer, and a great storyteller, her work seems too familiar – like a play using a recycled backdrop. Someone called Hamilton hit the nail on the head:

“I was disappointed. It felt as if the research hadn’t been digested – like walking through a museum, not real life. Or one of those period TV series full of highly polished Ford Anglias. Mary Wesley with the wit taken out and dialogue rewritten by Enid Blyton.” “…The worst, shoddiest Man Booker listed book (in my humble opinion) I’d ever read.”

I suspect Hamilton might be a man.

I do wonder how many male members there are in these reading groups. Are they gender-balanced? Have they been chosen to be representative in any way? Do they actually like literary fiction? I’m not sure they do. The Man Booker Prize Library Reading Groups’ Blog is not short of comments expressing disappointment with the shortlisted novels…

“This was a fitting title for a depressing read and certainly not a winner in my view.” (Anne Cooke on Carry me Down)
“I’m afraid that I didn’t get very involved in this.” (Kathryn, on The Inheritance of Loss)
“I did start The Night Watch when it first came out and frankly got a bit bored.” (Bev)

“[The] general consensus on The Night Watch was negative. Several people had read this when it was shortlisted for the Orange Prize earlier in the year, and folk were equally underwhelmed then.” (Sally)
“Some people had read The Secret River and enjoyed it although, again, most of those who had tackled it felt it lacked originality…” (Sally)
There are also signs of a distinct impatience towards anything ‘clever’ – like Mother’s Milk:

“I certainly didn’t like it and found it a chore rather than a pleasure to plough through.” (Yvonne)
“Although it’s keeping my attention, it’s more out of horror than enjoyment. “ (Karen)

“One lady found it heavy and quite depressing and not a feel good read.” (Bev)

“Sorry judges this book seems like an utter waste of time.” (Carol)

The precocious use of language by children in Mother’s Milk is a particular sticking point with a number of readers, which reminds me of the complaint someone made about Adrian Mole in the 1980’s: that no thirteen year old would use the word ‘nihilistic’ – well who else but a thirteen year old boy would?

The only other man on the shortlist – Hisham Matar – isn’t faring quite so badly, although one comment – “It was an easy read and rattled along” – makes me wonder if the Booker is being dumbed down faster than Ricky Gervais’ sit-com within a sit-com in Extras. I’m not the only one who is concerned.

“This year’s stunning omission of Peter Carey’s Theft, A Love Story reflects a dumbed-down Booker,” says Christopher Bantick in The (Brisbane) Courier Mail, “it is simply nonsense, on the basis of literary objectivism, that Carey’s book is not significantly better than the two Australian authors who made the coveted shortlist.”
Yes, Christopher, but the two Aussie writers who did make the shortlist are women – get with the programme!
Is the prize heading the way of the (UK version of the) TV show Big Brother? Gay winner? Check. Transsexual? Check. Asylum seeker? Check. Tourette’s? Check.
I expect next year’s Booker panel to include three or four judges from an ‘ethnic’ background with an unstated mandate to break the politically-troubling run of white winners. It would be far too simplistic to expect a panel just to pick the best book. Axes have to be ground.

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