Glittering Prizes

I have mixed views on Julian Barnes receiving this award. Firstly, he’s one of my favourite English novelists, so at least it has gone to a quality writer. But he’s been around for a long time and it’s not as if he desperately needs the recognition or the money.

In any case, since I’m not a fan of (literary) awards or ceremonies, I’m largely indifferent to their results. Okay, if anybody wanted to give me one, I might be tempted to get spruced up and go along to collect the prize. Any writer would be mad to dismiss the increased publicity generated and rocketing sales.

The Mann Booker is of course supposed to recognise the best novel of the year, not best writer. It’s the collective opinion of their panel and you don’t have to agree with their choice. Most people won’t. I haven’t read The Sense of an Ending yet. I might well do, but not because it is these judges’ book of the year.

I’ve never been keen on literature viewed as a competition. The rewards, as mentioned above are obvious, but I like to see writing as either worth publishing and reading – or not – rather than turned into some rostrum type affair. That’s the great value of anthologies. You make it or you don’t without ranking it. Clearly, many competition results these days are heavily influenced by who can drum up the most support on social networks, so a popular vote is no more valid than this one. I’m sure many people vote for their mates without even looking at the work in question.

On the other hand, I’m happy to see The Sense of an Ending win because it’s a victory for the short novel. Perhaps publishers (and some readers) will realise that a novel does not have to be 400 or 500 pages long to be worth our time and money. I have lost count of the number of novels that have been spoilt for me because they have overstayed their welcome – in my opinion of course.

Opinions are what it’s all about. Some have claimed that the quality of the shortlist has gone downhill in recent years. There have also been claims that the award has gone downhill. I wouldn’t know, the last winner I read was DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little in 2003. But most of the Booker-winning novels that I’ve read have been worth reading, which I think is the main point: Life of Pi (Yann Martel), Disgrace (J.M Coetzee), The God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy), How Late It Was, How Late (James Kelman), The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje), and The Famished Road (Ben Okri).

Kelman was a surprising winner I recall, due to being perceived as “anti-establishment” with a novel containing a tirade of expletives. But whether any of the above novels could be seen as “establishment” on their release is debatable. The only winner that I read that I was hugely disappointed by was Ian MacEwan’s Amsterdam. I couldn’t see the great appeal of that at all. Perhaps it was just the wrong choice of his work. Kelman has written better than How Late, too. In short, I don’t read much into it and am not fussed whether the books I read win many awards or popularity competitions.

What are your views on Julian Barnes and the Man Booker Prize?


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