More on the Man Booker/Literary Prize

When I set up this blog, I vowed that I would only touch peripherally on the literary prize bandwagon/farce and here I am writing my fourth post and my fourth on literary prizes. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said. There have been two burning (?) issues on the topic. The first is the issue of “readability”. When the Man Booker shortlist was announced, it was said that the were aiming for readability. This raised two issues. Firstly, did this mean that they wanted popular fiction rather than good fiction to dominate the list? And, if not, what did they mean by the word readability ? As usual, Elizabeth Baines summed up the issues admirably. As she points out, if readability is so good and it means books people read as opposed to admire, does this mean that admirable books are unreadable?  Well, no she says but, in fact, the reality is that there are many admirable books that readers consider unreadable, including some of the greats such Joyce, Kafka and Proust.  There are books that other consider great that I consider unreadable: on my site this would include David Markson and Péter Esterházy. There is nothing wrong in considering some books unreadable, even if that book is by Thomas Pynchon or James Joyce, as has been pointed out. However, do we want our foremost literary prize to award readability or quality? The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive – many readable books on my site are also of high quality.

This has been addressed by the announcement of a new literary prize to rival the Man Booker. Literary agent Andrew Kidd is the spokesperson for the prize which, as yet, does not seem to have funding. Will this prize work? Maybe. Maybe not.

The sad fact of the matter, despite Booker director Ion Trewin’s comments, is that the quality this year is not there. This is no fault of Trewin, Dame Stella Rimington or the Man Booker people. Authors have not produced. The Literary Prize might well have gone with The Stranger’s Child but that would not necessarily have been a huge improvement. It’s quite a good book but certainly not a great one.  So what are we left with?  Like Robert McCrum, I suspect it will be Julian Barnes – what the Committee thinks is, after all, the quality, but like McCrum, I am hopeless at guessing these things so I will probably be wrong and they will go with something more readable. And the Literary Prize will probably quietly fade away…