Archive for October, 2007

Anne Enright wins 2007 Man Booker Prize

The bookies were proved hopelessly wrong again tonight, as a 12-1 outsider won the 2007 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. Anne Enright won the £50,000 Prize for her novel The Gathering.
Top of the Pile: The Gathering by Anne Enright

It seems that, as with John Banville two years ago, literary style won out over other factors. Although beautifully written, the subject matter (a sister trying to make sense of her family history following the suicide of her abused younger brother) is, as Howard Davies (chair of the judges) admitted during his speech tonight, bleak and depressing.

Another judge, Giles Foden, perhaps gave a clue to the way the wind was blowing in his article in The Guardian last month, when he expressed surprise at “the degree of importance ascribed to subject matter [and] sympathy with main characters”.

So tsk to anyone who thinks reading literary fiction should be enjoyable.

Even people who liked The Gathering found it horrible.
As some of the comments posted on the official Man Booker Prize website forum illustrate:
“It’s been a long time since I’ve read such a well-written, mean-spirited book. The Gathering is a nasty book, and I’m glad the bitter taste didn’t turn the judges away.” (monochrome)
“What a hateful book…depressing, dark and utterly miserable. Thank goodness it was only short, but I still resent the 2 lost evenings spent trawling through this.” (cassietthenovellovers)

And there is one review of The Gathering which was given the following list of tags: “suicide, sexual abuse, family saga, alcoholism, Ireland, female perspective, Enright, Anne, first person narrator.”
You have been warned.

There was an altogether happier gathering earlier in the day when the six shortlisted authors met at Hatchards Bookshop in Piccadilly.
The six shortlisted authors: Nicola Barker, Mohsin Hamid, Indra Sinha, Anne Enright, Lloyd Jones and Ian McEwan

<!–a href="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_0Xo-TlBGpJY/RxUn5GHpktI/AAAAAAAAACs/tnxfUlPnbXU/s1600/shortlisteesgroupshot.jpg"&gt;The six shortlisted authors and their books</a–>

October 16, 2007 at 9:03 pm Leave a comment

Ashford: Twinned with Macondo?

Bookie Graham Sharpe (he sets the odds for William Hill) has, belatedly, come round to the view that Mister Pip should win this year’s prize. Of course this is bad news for Lloyd Jones because the bookies are always wrong. After the shortlist was announced my instinct was that it would be a two-horse race between Mister Pip and Animal’s People, and that the latter would win – and since it’s the only one of the shortlisted titles I haven’t read a bad word about, I think ranking it as a 7-1 outsider is a bit naïve.

There is a dark horse on the loose though, one which may prove too brilliant to be ignored, and it’s also a 7-1 outsider according to Mr. Sharpe. (Is his middle name ‘Notso’ I wonder?) “Someone in the literary world” tipped off Martin Hannan of the Scotsman that “the Booker judges will plump for Nicola Barker and her audacious, almost experimental, novel called Darkmans.”

Well, maybe. I’d love to see Nicola Barker win, but Graham Sharpe won’t be impressed. “Stylistically it’s full of brackets which drive you mad,” he says of Darkmans. It’s true, stylistically Nicola Barker ain’t no Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but isn’t this fabulous journey around a town and its inhabitants haunted by its history – simultaneously both down-to-earth and phantasmagorical – a sort of chavvy magic realism?

Sharpe also complains about the length of Darkmans and, at 838 pages, it may seem frighteningly long – but this is not a book where boredom is a possibility: it will leave readers baffled, certainly, but never bored. It’s quite a trip.

“I took some quiet satisfaction,” Nicola Barker told the official manbookerprize website, “from the fact that I had released a work of art into the world which was utterly singular and was going to mess with other people’s heads in exactly the same way that it had messed with mine.”

It certainly has been getting into people’s heads:

I’m getting the strangest feeling that this is a really important book. Isn’t this what Charles Dickens did?” says one blogger, who describes herself as “a fully paid-up member of The Loved Every Word Club“; while another says it is extraordinary the way Barker “can write a book with such singular focus and yet such vagueness; it is a sleight of hand and eye that conceals great skill,” and that contemporary fiction “just doesn’t get any better” than this “astonishing, gargantuan beast of a novel, combining the social acuity of Jane Austen, the wordplay of Ali Smith and the creepiness of Poe.

Strangely, Darkmans is dedicated to a man the author has never met – a Californian bookseller called Scott Ehrig-Burgess. The Telegraph revealed that he filled in a comment card enclosed in proof copy of Behindlings. “Nicola Barker,” he said, “is a talent so rare, iridescent and startlingly wonderful, that we, as booksellers and publishers, living in an age where television adverts seem to be the riskiest art we have, and books have the shelf life of Hollywood films, do not deserve her. Cities will be built upon her words and generations to come will envy us for having loitered on this earth with her. What I am trying to say is, I liked the book a great deal.”

It must be gratifying, almost to the point of mortifying embarrassment, for a writer to receive such a eulogy – especially if you don’t get much feedback from your readers because they are a bit scared of you. As Barker herself put it in an interview in The Observer, ‘They don’t think, “She’s just like me.” They think “She’s a maniac, why would I write a letter to her? What would she do, eat it?”‘

Earlier this week I was listening to A Good Read on Radio 4, and something the historian Bettany Hughes said about Jane Gardam’s Bilgewater echoed my own feelings towards Darkmans: “You don’t want to be in the real world, you just want to be with the book; and you feel like you’re being deeply disloyal to it for any minutes you spend out of its company.”

I feel like that now, writing this.
I should be reading more of Darkmans instead…

October 14, 2007 at 10:43 pm Leave a comment

MI5 not Booker Prize

The winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize will be revealed on Tuesday evening, but there will be no television coverage again this year – unless you count the Ten O’Clock News briefly cutting to the announcement of the winner that is…

Huw Edwards: And now over to London’s Guildhall to find out who’s won this year’s Man Booker Prize for fiction.

Howard Davies: …and the winner is Ni…

Huw Edwards: The winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize for fiction there. Presumably A Curious Earth, by Gerard Woodward, was excluded for being too well-written. Now for the national and international weather, followed by the weather in your area…

It’s no wonder I still haven’t got round to going digital. I keep thinking about buying a freeview box, but I really don’t want all those extra channels – there’s nothing on them worth watching. What exactly is the point of BBC4 if even they can’t be arsed with the biggest literary event of the year?

Is it really a coincidence that Tuesday’s ceremony clashes with the start of new series of Spooks on BBC1? Or a smelly cover-up? Could the BBC be conspiring to kill off a rival form of entertainment by denying books the oxygen of publicity? We should be told.

October 14, 2007 at 9:17 pm Leave a comment

Man Booker Acrostic Puzzle

October 9, 2007 at 2:28 am Leave a comment

Hard to sell?

This year’s shortlist may well be my favourite ever, so I have to take issue with Nicholas Lezard‘s view that low sales reflect “dissatisfaction with the judges’ choices.” In fact, according to The Bookseller, the shortlisted titles aren’t faring much worse than last year’s, and anyway I’m sure many people – including myself – obtain most of the books through their local libraries.

It’s good to hear that the organisers are marketing the prize “more aggressively” this year and that Tesco is going to “support the Booker through its Recommended Reads bays in 150 of its stores” after the winner is announced (on October 16th). David Cooke, senior buying manager at Tesco, says they “want to support the Booker” and they will do, but “with most of them being hardback, there is not much we can do.”

Clearly the hardback format is more hindrance than let, which begs a question: why are books published in hardback when so few people buy them? Aren’t publishers shooting themselves in the foot by publishing in a format customers don’t buy and supermarkets won’t stock? Maybe next year the Booker committee could chivvy publishers into rush-releasing paperback editions of the shortlisted titles – or is that asking for the moon on a stick?

October 1, 2007 at 12:14 am Leave a comment


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