'Lost' Man Booker Prize for 1970: The Shortlist

March 25, 2010 at 8:34 pm

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 Available again now thanks to Faber Finds print on demand, it was initially withdrawn a few days before publication following an injunction, and threat of libel action, from the former Labour MP Tom Skeffington-Lodge who had spotted that a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.

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Revised 1970 longlist gives us more (Trespasses) Troubles triumphs


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