Archive for March, 2010

'Lost' Man Booker Prize for 1970: The Shortlist

Here is the shortlist for the ‘Lost’ Man Booker Prize for 1970, as revealed this afternoon at The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival:

Nina Bawden – The Birds On The Trees (Virago)
J.G. Farrell – Troubles (Phoenix)
Shirley Hazzard – The Bay of Noon (Virago)
Mary Renault – Fire From Heaven (Arrow)
Muriel Spark – The Driver’s Seat (Penguin)
Patrick White – The Vivisector (Vintage)

The list was chosen by three judges who were all born around 1970:
ITN newsreader Katie Derham, the poet and novelist Tobias Hill and the journalist and critic Rachel Cooke.

Nina Bawden and Shirley Hazzard are the only authors on the list who are still alive, but according to the official site the books are all “still in print and generally available today”. Nevertheless, as I have said before, that just shows they aren’t reliant on libraries. If I said people were fighting over Nottinghamshire libraries’ one and only copy of Troubles, I would only be slightly exaggerating, and three of the others aren’t even listed in their catalogue.

I’m slightly disappointed that neither Paul Bailey or Francis King made the shortlist.

Paul Bailey received just £400 for Trespasses back in 1970, and last year he had to apply to the Royal Literary Fund for financial support because no-one was interested in publishing his latest novel Chapman’s Odyssey, although it is now going to be published by Bloomsbury. It’s good to know that some of the money they made from Harry Potter is being spread around.

As for Francis King, the story of A Domestic Animal’s initial publication – or rather non-publication – is quite a tale. Available again now thanks to Faber Finds print on demand, it was initially withdrawn a few days before publication following an injunction, and threat of libel action, from the former Labour MP Tom Skeffington-Lodge who had spotted that a character called Dame Winifred Harcourt had been based on him. In his autobiography Yesterday Came Suddenly, Francis King recounts the nightmare he went through with admirable humour, but it explains why he has described A Domestic Animal as “the novel that comes nearest to saying what I wanted to say – and that cost me the most”. It also formed the basis of a subsequent novel called The Action, which seems to have vanished from the face of the Earth – another one in need of ‘finding’ perhaps?

But back to the shortlist, I agree with Charlotte Higgins of the Guardian that it looks like a two-horse race now. Although the rule is: never make predictions – not only will they be wrong but when you look back at them you will question your own sanity. Despite that I will confidently predict a second win for JG Farrell. I had expected to find Troubles hard-going (after all it is a historical novel and they bore me) but it wore down my defences by being relentlessly amusing. And I’m not just saying that to jinx it, in the sneaky hope that Muriel Spark will win a richly deserved posthumous Booker instead. (Even though it would be for her weirdest novel.)

The Times will be hosting a live debate at midday tomorrow (Friday 26th March) asking who should win.

The winner will be announced on May 19th. To vote, go to: www.themanbookerprize.com/news/vote before April 23rd.

March 25, 2010 at 8:34 pm

Revised 1970 longlist gives us more (Trespasses)

You wait forty years for a 1970 Booker Prize longlist and then two come along a month apart. Sort of. The Lost Booker longlist has been revised: Joe Orton’s Head To Toe has been removed from the list for being late – not because it was published posthumously but because it wasn’t published until January 1971; and The Fire Dwellers by Margaret Laurence has also been removed, having been published in 1969. Par for the course really when you consider that the Lost Booker Prize only came about when the official Booker archivist Peter Straus noticed that Fifth Business by Robertson Davies hadn’t been shortlisted in 1971 despite being lauded by several of that year’s judges, only for it to turn out to be ineligible for the Lost Booker Prize as well because it wasn’t published until 1971. Or something. That one seems to have slipped through the net twice now.

On the plus side, in comes another author deserving of more recognition: Paul Bailey, for his second novel Trespasses, about which I know next-to-nothing but from that little it is clear that this is a book I would like to read given the chance, so I am looking forward to the reissue Bloomsbury have promised (although there is no sign of it as yet).

Dipping into the longlist has certainly been an eye opener for me. I didn’t remember how totally obsessed by sex everyone was in 1970. Mind you, I was only four years old at the time. For example, the original hardback copy of A Fairly Honourable Defeat the library dug out of their archives for me has a drawing of a naked woman on the cover. I don’t think I can resist sending a mischievous tweet to BBC2’s Review Show suggesting they cover the prize by getting their guests to review 1970 editions of the titles. I’m guessing Germaine Greer wouldn’t be impressed. Meanwhile, the protagonist of The Hand Reared Boy recalls being tossed-off by his brother, his sister, the maid, and all the other boys in the dormitory of his public school (of course). I confidently predict it will not win the ‘Lost’ Man Booker Prize – not unless they want the award to be rechristened the Boy Wanker Prize. Sigmund Freud would have a field day; as he might with Martin Amis, according to Anna Ford in The Sunday Times recently: “I really don’t think he is able to relate to people properly or understands their feelings,” she said. “I always found that Martin, when he was talking to me, looked straight through me. He simply wasn’t interested. I think that applies to other women, too.” Although he has rebutted some of the details in a quickfire response, I suspect she is right. For me, his novels – the few I’ve read, that is – seem to be suffused with that emotionally disengaged tone common amongst clever-clever public schoolboys* – the sort who smirk. A trait pinpointed by a young man on the Channel 4 documentary Tower Block of Commons recently, when asked what he thought of David Cameron. The first bullseye in the General Election class war? [*public school: “where they make twats” – Coming of Age, BBC3, last week…or was it Russell Howard on Mock the Week?]

By a synchronicitous happenstance, Amis’s latest book The Pregnant Widow is set in 1970, potentially linking both the Lost Booker with this year’s Man Booker prizes – unless he is snubbed by the judges for the umpteenth time, of course. Surprisingly there may be a clear favourite for this year’s prize already. It’s stupidly early to stick one’s neck out, especially with books on the way from Ian McEwan and David Mitchell in particular, but Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor is starting to create a real buzz. Jon will be reading from, and talking about, Even the Dogs, at (amongst other places) West Bridgford library on Thursday 11th March at 2:30pm, and I hope to be there, lurking in the background.

He has also been interviewed by dovegreyreader for her excellent blog, although I was disappointed to read this comment: “I still think Jonathan Buckley’s “So He Takes The Dog” is one of the great British novels of the last decade, and I still seem to be alone in that” – which proves that he has never read this blog. But then, to quote Joseph Heller, who has?

March 5, 2010 at 2:54 am Leave a comment


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