George Saunders wins the 2017 Man Booker Prize

October 18, 2017 at 3:10 pm Leave a comment

The £50,000 Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2017 was awarded to George Saunders last night for his first full length goddamn novel Lincoln in the Bardo (Bloomsbury). A field geophysicist from Amarillo, Texas, who quit “swimming in […] monkey shit […] to try and be Kerouac II“, Saunders has been well-known in America for twenty years thanks to his humorous (and often dystopic) short stories. Lincoln in the Bardo is the “Scary Artistic Project He Desperately Longed to Attempt”.

This means that the prize has been won by an American writer for the second successive year, only four years after the prize was opened up to writers from outside the Commonwealth. Interestingly, that decision to open up the prize was seen as being a response to the inauguration of the Folio Prize in 2014, which included Americans – and short-story collections. And who won that first Folio Prize? George Saunders for his short story collection Tenth of December. Of that book, Saunders told Slate.com that at least three of the stories were intended to be novels, “until they came to their senses. That seems to be the definition of ‘novel’ for me: a story that hasn’t yet discovered a way to be brief.”

Lincoln in the Bardo depicts the events of the night Abraham Lincoln’s 11-year-old son Willie died (February 22nd, 1862) in a genuinely innovative and, ultimately, moving way using quotations from historical works (some real, some fictional, some amusingly contradictory) and a myriad of spectral perspectives (apparently there are 166 different voices heard in the novel). Despite such a frightening-sounding conceit it is beautifully readable – as Saunders told The Guardian: “the writer doesn’t need to throw a party in every sentence”. Although I disagree with the decision to open the prize to Americans, there is no doubt that the judges have picked the right book: it is a ‘fittingly dazzling‘ winner.

For premature speculation about who the contenders for the 2018 prize might be keep an eye on:  https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/115479.Man_Booker_Prize_Eligible_2018

And let’s hope that Ali Smith isn’t serious about not submitting her books for the prize in future.

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2017 Man Booker Prize Shortlist

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