Top of the Pile

October 8, 2006 at 10:13 pm Leave a comment

So who will finish top of the pile?
Well, according to the BBC, the Bookies have seen a surge of support for Kiran Desai over the weekend, and I’m not surprised. People have probably read The Inheritance of Loss now and realised that it would be a classic ‘compromise’ choice. It’s the sort of book that will probably be in every judge’s top three. If there is, or ever was, a ‘Booker type’ novel The Inheritance of Loss certainly fits the bill – it ticks all the right boxes, as well as being a genuinely captivating read. It would be my second choice, after Mother’s Milk. If it weren’t for the female majority on the judging panel, I would probably be tipping Edward St Aubyn to win. Mother’s Milk is not only written with style, it frequently had me chuckling. Trouble is, that sort of intelligent, wry humour goes right over some people’s heads. And serious prize judges tend to give the prizes to serious books.

What do they want?
The chair of the judges (Hermione Lee) has been quoted as saying that they were looking for “storytelling and historical truthfulness” – I wonder if that implies that the winner will have to survive some intense nit-picking tomorrow? If so, I fear for MJ Hyland. Carry Me Down was my hunch for the prize the moment I read the recommendations on the cover…

“This is writing of the highest order…” – JM Coetzee
“It’s a work of discreet brilliance. M.J. Hyland is a truly gifted writer.” – Ali Smith

…but some of the details didn’t ring true for the time in which it is set (1972). Like John watching telly in the afternoon. I seem to remember TV closed down in the afternoons back then, didn’t it? Unless he was watching the Test Card…
Also a poor family like the Egans would have been unlikely to have had their own telephone in those days, especially when living in emergency housing. And Man Utd were certainly not in the FA Cup Final back then.

So, having read both of MJ Hyland’s novels in quick succession, I have to say I found How The Light Gets In more convincing, more real. Both are excellent books featuring memorable characters though. Maria Hyland is certainly good at writing from the point of view of children, and childhood seems to have proved an irresistable theme for this year’s judges – half of the shortlisted books are narrated by children. Colm Tóibín must be kicking himself. If only his latest book – Mothers and Sons – had been a novel rather than a collection of short stories he might have walked away with this year’s Booker prize.

I will be slightly disappointed if the Bookies are right (for possibly the first time ever) and The Night Watch wins, although as ‘gay’ books go, I prefer it to The Line of Beauty. Remember, this is a book which was a runner-up in this year’s Orange Prize to a book (Zadie Smith: On Beauty) which was a runner-up in last year’s Man Booker Prize (to The Sea by John Banville). I keep imagining the three of them in that MC Escher painting…

The Night Watch is a strong contender though. The people – I say people, but they do all seem to be women – the people who like it really like it. It’s “a novel as richly textured as the Rembrandt painting or the Mahler symphony which share its name,” according to MaryJo Anderson in The Chronicle Herald (Halifax, Nova Scotia), and it “tears the underwear off London,” according one of the judges – actress Fiona Shaw. Steady on!
The winner will be announced just after 10pm tomorrow night, at The Guildhall in London. One author who won’t have trouble finding the place is Kate Grenville – she did a lot of research for The Secret River in the library there. Apparently the announcement will be made live on the Ten O’Clock News – shame on the BBC for axing the traditional programme discussing the shortlisted novels before the announcement. Is half-an-hour a year devote
d to books too much to ask now?

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The WoMan Booker Prize 2006 The Inheritance of Talent

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