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October 19, 2011 at 1:56 am Leave a comment

Julian Barnes’ number finally came up last night when The Sense of an Ending won the £50,000 Man Booker Prize for 2011. It was the fourth time he had been shortlisted, having previously been a runner-up with Flaubert’s Parrot (1984), England, England (1998) and Arthur and George (2005).

In an infamous 1987 article about the Booker Prize in The London Review of Books, Barnes had written that “the only sensible attitude to the Booker is to treat it as posh bingo. It is El Gordo, the Fat One, the sudden jackpot that enriches some plodding Andalusian muleteer.” However, in a recent interview he was more equanimous: “I’ve had reasonably long experience of not winning – and I think I’ve exhausted all the ins and outs of that, so I wouldn’t object to a change.”

I am pleased that, 27 years after he should have won, Julian Barnes is finally a Booker Prize winner, especially as we are now spared the possibility of a ‘Best of Barnesy Booker Prize’. Personally I was somewhat nonplussed by some aspects of The Sense of an Ending but maybe, like his uncomprehending narrator Tony Webster, I just didn’t get it, and a second reading will help. Also my comment that there was no great literature on the shortlist may have been too glib.

Chair of the judges, Dame Stella Rimington, said that “The Sense of an Ending has the markings of a classic of English Literature. It is exquisitely written, subtly plotted and reveals new depths with each reading.” Gaby Wood, also one of this year’s judges, points out that “the title is taken from a seminal piece of literary criticism written in 1965 by the great Frank Kermode, who died last year (and who, incidentally, was a judge of the inaugural Booker Prize in 1969)”.

Dame Stella also provided one of the quotes of the year in reponse to some unkind and unecessary barbs: “People weirder than me have chaired the Booker,” she said, “A previous chair was Michael Portillo.”


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Past the buffet Booker 2012: Even Posher Bingo?

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