Pip too readable?

September 24, 2007 at 2:06 pm 1 comment

There are big differences of opinion about the favourite to win this year’s Man Booker Prize.

While many people agree with Andrew Holgate in The Times that Mister Pip “would make a worthy winner,” others concur with Killian Fox in The Observer that it “does not have the substance, however, nor the consistency, to merit a surprise Booker win next month.”

Indeed, one American reckons it’s just too easy a read to win a literary award. Janice Harayda on oneminutebookreviews fed samples of Mister Pip into Microsoft Word to check its readability statistics (who knew you could do that?) and found it was written at ‘third-grade’ level (readable by an average 8-year-old) scoring a grade-level of 3.6 on the Flesch-Kincaid scale and putting it on a par with the work of Mitch Albom. Apparently, On Chesil Beach clocks in at 8.6, and this paragraph registers twelve. 8¬O Come on guys, you’re not writing hard enough!

Harayda sampled some former Booker Prize winning novels and found these results:

Grade 12.0 … The Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro)
Grade 10.5 … Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
Grade 10.2 … The Sea (John Banville)
Grade 10.0 … Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie)
Grade 8.9 …. Schindler’s Ark (Thomas Keneally)
Grade 8.8 …. Hotel du Lac (Anita Brookner)
Grade 8.7 …. Possession (AS Byatt)
Grade 8.1 …. Offshore (Penelope Fitzgerald)

She also found that Dickens’ Great Expectations rated 10.5, while last year’s winner – The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai – “varied from 5.3 to 12 for an average of 8.1.”

More seriously there is the faintest whiff of racism in a white author putting rather dumb words into the mouths of black characters. Harayda wonders why the narrator – a university educated black woman – writes in the style of an eight-year-old about events that happened when she was a “precocious 13-year-old”. I’m more concerned about the fatuous ‘wisdom’ passed on by the women of the village to the schoolchildren, which could be seen as making fun of stereotypically ‘simple’ native folk, in a way that might make Alexander McCall Smith blush.

Less seriously, I wonder what grade-level Jeffrey Archer’s work scores?
Or, for that matter, Katie Price, aka Jordan…

According to The Telegraph, Katie’s novel Crystal has outsold the six novels on the Booker shortlist combined (by 159,407 copies to 120,770 at the last count) and, of course, most of those sales were for McEwan:

… 110,615 On Chesil Beach
……. 2,918 The Reluctant Fundamentalist
……. 2,802 Mister Pip
……. 1,987 The Gathering
……. 1,259 Darkmans
……. 1,189 Animal’s People

Although even those figures are a lot less embarrassing than they were before the shortlist was announced:

… 99,660 On Chesil Beach
….. 1,519 The Reluctant Fundamentalist
…….. 880 Mister Pip
…….. 834 The Gathering
…….. 499 Darkmans
…….. 231 Animal’s People

[Sales figures up to August 18th as reported in The Telegraph.]

I shudder to think what they were back in July before the longlist.

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2007 Man Booker Prize Shortlist Hard to sell?

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