Following on from my post on Monday, the Man Booker Prize now confirms that the Prize is open to all writers writing in English, as expected. However, it now seems – and this is not 100% clear – that publishers can submit one novel as well as proposing other novels for the judges to consider, in order to control the number of novels judges must read. I am not sure of the implications of this. How do publishers tell their authors that they are not the one? There is also a cryptic comment that this will be by reference to longlisting within the previous five years. What does that mean? No doubt all will become clear later.
Tag: Man Booker
The latest additions to my website are two books by Ruth Ozeki. The first is My Year of Meats, a very witty and somewhat polemic attack on various things – sexism, racism, the US obsession with guns and, in particular, the meat industry. It tells two stories of two women in parallel. The first, clearly based on the author, is Jane Takagi-Little, a documentary film maker who gets a job working on a TV programme called American Wife, to be shown in Japan, with the not very subtle intention of promoting meat-eating. Each episode shows a typical, wholesome (i.e. white, middle class) US family, ending up with their eating meat. Jane tries to subtly sabotage this by showing other types of families (Hispanic, African-American, a handicapped child and, finally, a Lesbian couple). The other story concerns Akiko, wife of Joichi Ueno, the advertising executive in Japan, with whom Jane has to deal. He is a sexist, racist bully, drinks, abuses and rapes his wife and and even tries to rape Jane, though preferring big-breasted Texan women. However, Ozeki’s mocking is generally mild, till she gets to the meat industry later in the book, when she lets loose. Meat eaters might want to turn away at this point. However, it is a very funny book, with some serious points to make
The second book is A Tale for the Time Being, her latest book. As with My Year of Meats, this tells two stories, one of a American woman (called Ruth) and one of a Japanese woman, only this Japanese woman is a sixteen year old, called Naoko (Nao). Ruth, who lives by the sea in British Columbia with her husband, Oliver (like her creator) finds washed up a Hello Kitty box containing Nao’s dairy, some letters and an old watch. She slowly reads the diary, learning about Nao’s somewhat difficult life. Nao’s father had worked for a US dotcom but the dotcom had gone bust and he had all his money invested in stock options. He has been unable to find a job in Japan and is suicidal. Nao does not fit in at the Japanese school and is cruelly bullied. Her one comfort becomes her great-grandmother, Jiko, a one hundred and four year old nun. Ruth and Oliver, meanwhile, are worried that Nao might have been killed in the Fukushima disaster. Despite strenuous efforts to find out, they come up with very little. While still somewhat polemical, particularly on environmental issues, Ozeki introduces more philosophical ideas, such as the issue of time, quantum physics and 9/11. The book has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and is a very worthy contender.
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…
I was surprised to find in my morning Guardian an interview with Stella Rimington not on spying but on the Booker Prize and in the main section of the paper, not the Review section. Apparently she cannot tolerate personal abuse. Who can? Tony Blair? However, she must be aware that she is in a highly political position (Chair of the Man Booker Prize Committee for this year, if you have sensibly kept away from the all the prizes) but has made some very odd choices. In particular, she and her committee have been roundly condemned for omitting Alan Hollinghurst‘s The Stranger’s Child, a early favourite with the bookies and the public. Moreover, she has been accused of being homophobic for omitting both the Hollinghurst and Philip Hensher. I have not read the Hensher but I have read the Hollinghurst and while it certainly was not bad, it was not a great novel, either. The problem is that many of the likely contenders this year – Anne Enright‘s The Forgotten Waltz, Jane Harris‘s Gillespie and I, A L Kennedy‘s The Blue Book, Hari Kunzru‘s Gods Without Men, Graham Swift‘s Wish You Were Here and Barry Unsworth‘s The Quality of Mercywere less than brilliant, so the Committee had a real problem.
I have not read any of the short list and do not expect to. Julian Barnes, I feel, peaked with Flaubert’s Parrot, which wasn’t a novel so I have no great desire to read A Sense of Ending and none of the others inspired me, though I may be persuaded to change my mind. Books sometime can seem better later. They can also seem worse. Maybe this year is just not a very good year, with the English (and Scottish and Welsh and Irish) novel being of the same calibre as their respective rugby and cricket teams.