Not the Nobel Prize

Last year’s winner Tomas Tranströmer

No, I am not going to talk about the Nobel Prize, except that I am. I was determined not to but I am essentially weak-willed. Michael Orthofer at Literary Saloon has now had a long(for him) post on it and The World Literature Forum, Fictional Woods, Goodreads and even The Game of Thrones forum have all put in their ten cents. The following speculations are entirely mine though I may well have read and been influenced by others but they are not to blame for my misjudgements.

Yaşar Kemal

Firstly, let me say that, as far as I can recall, I have never accurately forecasted the winner. I am probably not alone there. For years I predicted that Yaşar Kemal would win. He never did but when Orhan Pamuk won in 2006, I realised Turkey’s chances of getting another one were slim to none. I thought the French might get one but I forecasted Tournier or Butor would get it and not Le Clézio (few people predicted Le Clézio, it must be said). I should have seen Vargas Llosa but I thought that Fuentes would be a more likely Latin American choice. And, of course, I never had a clue that Tranströmer would get it. Of course, I have followed with some bemusement the fact that Adonis and Ko Un are perennial nominees. I say bemusement because I am completely unfamiliar with their work and, indeed, know no-one who has ever read them. This is not to do them down – I am sure that they are both first-class poets – it is just that they are not on most people’s radar.

Elfriede Jelinek

So I am going to try and look at this logically. I am going on the assumption – probably incorrect – that the Nobel Prize committee is going to be relatively consistent, in that if they have given the Nobel Prize to a Swedish poet recently, they are unlikely to give a Swedish writer or, indeed, any Scandinavian writer in the near future. Of course, this does not always work out. In 2004, they gave it to a German-speaking novelist and then did the same again in 2009. Günter Grass had already won it in 1999. Admittedly, Jelinek is Austrian and Müller German-Romanian but still… However, assuming they don’t break these rules again, I think we can discount the following:

  • A poet. A poet got it last year so I think that it is unlikely one will get it this year. So that leaves Adonis and Ko Un out. It also leaves Bob Dylan out, who once again is quoted at 33-1. Some commentators think linking Dylan with the Nobel prize is a travesty. I disagree. While I certainly don’t think that he should win it, I think that his lyrics are superior to the work of some writers who are perennial favourites.
  • A Scandinavian. See above.
  • A Latin American. Vargas Llosa won it deservedly two years ago. The other major candidate from Latin America would have been Carlos Fuentes and he sadly died this year.
  • A German-speaking writer. See above.
  • A French writer. See above.
  • A Turk. See above
  • A Brit. Lessing in 2007 and Pinter in 2005 means probably all Brits (and that would almost certainly include Scottish, Welsh and Irish writers, to their disgust) are out.
Maybe Thomas Pynchon

So where does that leave us? The last US writer to win was Toni Morrison in 1993, i.e. nearly twenty years ago. Of course, the permanent secretary of the Nobel prize jury famously damned US writers but that was, frankly, somewhat silly. There are loads of possible candidates, in addition to Bob Dylan and Philip Roth. Ladbrokes has Roth and Cormac McCarthy at 16/1, Pynchon at 20/1, De Lillo, Joyce Carol Oates and E L Doctorow at 33/1, Maya Angelou at 50/1, Ursula LeGuin, William Gass and John Ashbery at 66/1 and Auster, Marge Piercy, Jonathan Littell (misspelled), Louise Glück and Franzen at 100/1. Most of those, Roth excluded, would be worthwhile winners, though Oates and Pynchon would be my choices. There are also several Canadians on the Ladbroke list, who could also be considered.

The last Indian winner

Unless you count Pamuk and Naipaul, which you might, there has not been an Asian winner since Gao Xingjian in 2000. The last Indian winner was ninety-nine years ago. Apart from Tagore, one Chinese, two Japanese and a joint Israeli pair does it for Asia. Ladbrokes has Murakami as favourite. Good choice but a bit too populist. Mo Yan is in joint second place. Adonis and Ko Un are, of course, both Asian, giving, in Ladbrokes’ view, Asians four of the top six top choices. Unless you count Chang-rae Lee, whom I would consider US, other Asians are Amos Oz, Bei Dao, Mahasweta Devi, A B Yehoshua, Azar Nafisi, Dai Sijie, Hanan Al-Shaykh, Salman Rushdie, F Sionil José, Atiq Rahimi, Elias Khoury, Shlomo Kalo and Rajendra Bhandari. The first four are, of course, all good bets but I would have thought Rushdie would be the most likely one.

Chinua Achebe

The last African winner was a white South African. The previous African winner was…a white South African. Two very fine writers and well deserving of the Prize but… The two other African winners were Soyinka and Mahfouz. Ladbrokes offers Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (also misspelled; spelling does not appear to be a strong point at Ladbrokes), Chinua Achebe, Assia Djebar, Nurridin Farah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ben Okri and Leila Aboulela. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o would appear to be an interesting choice but, though he is a fine writer, his recent work had tended towards the satirical, not necessarily a vote-winner. I would consider Chinua Achebe an excellent choice and long overdue though I would add Syl Cheney-Coker to the list.

The last Australian winner

Australia has one Nobel Prize winner and the other Oceania nations none. David Malouf, Les Murray, Peter Carey, Gerald Murnane and Tim Winton are all on Ladbrokes list. Not a bad bunch but I am not sure that this is their year. No-one from New Zealand or elsewhere in the continent. Lloyd Jones might not be quite ready, though there is always Patrick Grace.

The last East European winner

Which brings us to Eastern Europe. Excluding Herta Müller, whom we should consider as primarily German as that is the language she writes in, the last Eastern European winner was Imre Kertész. A quick look at the Eastern Europeans shows that they win it just over once a decade – Wislawa Szymborska in the 1990s, Joseph Brodsky and Jaroslav Seifert in the 1980s, Singer and Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in the 1970s, Mikhail Sholokhov and Ivo Andrić in the 1960s, Boris Pasternak in the 1950s, Ivan Bunin in the 1930s, Wladyslaw Reymont in the 1920s and Henryk Sienkiewicz in the 1900s, with only the decades of the two world wars missing. So it is time for another Eastern European. At fourth equal, Ladbrokes offers the writer with the most books reviewed on my site – Ismail Kadare. He did win the Man Booker International Prize in 2005, the first one. None of the other three winners of this prize has won the Nobel Prize but I do not think that disqualifies him. He has produced an outstanding body of work, his books are readily available in English and, particularly, in French. And he is one of my favourite living authors (though the Nobel Prize Committee may not consider that an important criterion.)

The next Nobel Prize winner?

So there you have it. My pick for the next Nobel Prize for Literature. But don’t forget that I have never picked a winner. So it will probably be Adonis. Or Philip Roth. Or Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. Or Murakami. Or Yaşar Kemal. Or somebody else no-one guessed. One thing is for sure. Ladbrokes are not getting any of my money even at odds of 14/1 for Kadare.

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