Archive for February, 2008

The Sea? or not The Sea? Is that the question?

It’s time to pick a Booker of Bookers again. Three judges are to choose a shortlist of six from the 41 Booker Prize winning novels The public will then choose their favourite. Uh-oh!

One Bookmaker (William Hill) has already installed Yann Martel’s Life of Pi as the favourite, presumably on the basis that it was such a popular book with reading groups – there are twice as many LibraryThing users with a copy of Life of Pi than own any other Booker winner. One good reason for the judges not to include it on the shortlist maybe?

I have a hunch that Possession might come out on top – I’m fairly certain that it will be on the shortlist, not least because it is one of those rare beasts: a literary novel that has achieved some popularity. Although, personally I will be rooting for The Remains of the Day (and if it isn’t on the shortlist I will want the judges’ heads on a pole).

As two-time winners, JM Coetzee and Peter Carey must be strong contenders (for Disgrace and Oscar and Lucinda, probably) but they are by no means certainties: Booker judges often bypass the established favourites. For this reason, and also that of gender-balance, I have another hunch that Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss might sneak into the reckoning.

The English Patient is also one of the Bookies’ favourites for the last six, although I can’t see it winning. I remember returning it to the library and being asked by the librarian what I had made of it. Neither head nor tail, that’s what. Her too.

John Walsh in The Independent (and The Belfast Telegraph) has nailed his colours to the mast of Barry Unsworth’s “awe-inspiring” Sacred Hunger, and I too would love to see it on the shortlist as Unsworth is still relatively unknown despite being one of Britain’s best novelists.
Victoria Glendinning, who is chairing the judges, is certainly familiar with Sacred Hunger though – she was also chair of the judges in 1992 when it was awarded the prize jointly with The English Patient. Why I wonder did she not use her casting vote? Did she love them both equally, did she not like either, or was there some other reason?

The other two judges are John Mullan, Professor of English at UCL, and author of How Novels Work (which is near the top of my reading list – I will be scouring it for clues now!) and the broadcaster Mariella Frostrup, who was on the judging panel in 2000 when, according to her account of the process in The Guardian, she reluctantly acceded to the majority opinion in favour of The Blind Assassin – so Margaret Atwood fans shouldn’t get their hopes up.

The judges will certainly face some tough and intriguing decisions. What about Schindler’s Ark for example? More faction than fiction, but it did win so it is eligible, and is probably popular enough (not to mention worthy enough) that if it were on the shortlist, it might win.

So will they lean towards populism, or force the public to choose between literary heavyweights? And then there is The Sea, The Sea and The Sea to consider – if you see what I mean…

A solid and sensible shortlist might look like this:

Midnight’s Children (1981)
Oscar and Lucinda (1988)
The Remains of the Day (1989)
Possession (1990)
The English Patient (1992)
and
Disgrace (1999).

Trouble is, most of these novels were considered the last time a Booker of Bookers was chosen – to celebrate in the prize’s 25th anniversary in 1993 – and were trumped by Midnight’s Children. Will the judges therefore lean towards more recent winners? I hope not. I hope they will take the opportunity to steer people towards some of those winners which predate the explosion of reading groups. Maybe they will really surprise us, and dig one out from the 1970’s – prize judges do hate being predictable…

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February 26, 2008 at 2:32 am Leave a comment


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