Archive for February, 2010

At long last…the1970 long list!

The race is on for the 1970 Booker Prize. No, that’s not a misprint, I do mean 1970. It seems that in the formative years of the prize they missed one. The first two prizes were awarded for the best novel published in the previous year, which covered 1968 and 1969, but from 1971 it was awarded to the best novel of that year, neglecting those novels that were published in 1970. So now the search is on for the Lost Man Booker Prize winner, and a 22-strong longlist has been announced:

Brian Aldiss – The Hand Reared Boy
HE Bates – A Little Of What You Fancy?
Nina Bawden – The Birds On The Trees
Melvyn Bragg – A Place In England
Christy Brown – Down All The Days
Len Deighton – Bomber
JG Farrell – Troubles
Elaine Feinstein – The Circle
Shirley Hazzard – The Bay Of Noon
Reginald Hill – A Clubbable Woman
Susan Hill – I’m The King Of The Castle
Francis King – A Domestic Animal
Margaret Laurence – The Fire Dwellers
David Lodge – Out Of The Shelter
Iris Murdoch – A Fairly Honourable Defeat
Shiva Naipaul – Fireflies
Patrick O’Brian – Master and Commander
Joe Orton – Head To Toe
Mary Renault – Fire From Heaven
Ruth Rendell – A Guilty Thing Surprised
Muriel Spark – The Driver’s Seat
Patrick White – The Vivisector

The shortlist, to be chosen by journalist and critic Rachel Cooke, ITN newsreader Katie Derham and the poet and novelist Tobias Hill, will be announced in March. There will then be a public vote on the official Man Booker Prize website with the winner to be revealed in May.

It’s a fascinating and varied looking longlist which, as well as visiting the usual corners of the Commonwealth during days and wars gone by, also features Pop Larkin & family, Dalziel & Pascoe, Inspector Wexford, Alexander the Great, masturbation and giant buttocks. Fantastic!

I have only read two of the books (although, by happy coincidence, I bought a copy of Susan Hill’s book for 30p on Saturday) and I have to confess that two-thirds of the titles and two of the authors (Elaine Feinstein and Margaret Laurence) are completely new to me.

The organisers do suggest that all these books are readily available, but that tells me they haven’t tried to obtain a forty-year old literary novel from a library recently. I would certainly like to get my hands on copies of the books by Brian Aldiss, Francis King and Joe Orton, which may suggest that my literary taste comes at least in part from entirely the wrong bodily organ.

Bearing that in mind it won’t come as a surprise that one of the books I have read is Fire From Heaven and, as if to prove the enduring popularity of Mary Renault’s Alexander Trilogy, the copy I borrowed from a library was stubbornly unrenewable due to demand. Not bad for book that is of an age greater than its world-conquering subject ever attained. To paraphrase Sid Waddell, when Alexander the Great was thirty-three he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer; Renault’s book is forty, and still going strong. Bookies take heed.

Also, being a fan of Muriel Spark, I had read The Driver’s Seat – or, to be more precise, I hurriedly bulldozed my way through it in a library once. I expected a short book by one of my favourite authors to be a breeze but it just left me cold. I think it’s the only one of Muriel Spark’s books I haven’t enjoyed.

There are a number of suspiciously popular authors for a Booker list, so it will be interesting to see whether either of the detective novels or the phenomenally successful Master and Commander
make the shortlist, and also whether Iris Murdoch has become irredeemably passé. Back in 1970 she would have been a certainty for the shortlist, although I have a hunch that JG Farrell or Nina Bawden would have won. (Sorry, is that two hunches?)

I’m not so sure what judges of the time would have made of A Domestic Animal though. Francis King may not have been as in-your-face queer as Joe Orton, but he was still ahead of his time. An unsung pioneer in the still-too-small world of gay literary fiction. Remember, this was a year before Maurice by EM Forster was published posthumously, and almost a quarter-of-a-century before Alan Hollinghurst was first shortlisted. I hope that the 2010 judges bear that in mind.

So I am hoping (arrogantly expecting, to be honest) to see a tremendously strong shortlist comprising: Nina Bawden, Len Deighton, JG Farrell, Susan Hill, Francis King and Mary Renault.


February 1, 2010 at 12:34 am 3 comments


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