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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Man, Booker

The intervention of Sir Andrew Motion, a fine poet, offering his alternate Booker shortlist, and his scolding of the current panel of judges, along with many other noises off, and the launching of a new prize, is all nonsense.  As everyone who reads in the UK now knows, there is a supposed tension between a "good read" and "literary excellence", and this year's cohort of judges, led by a former spymaster, apparently tipped over in favour of the readability factor.  Perhaps.  But it seems to be a form of backseat-driving, if not a more questionable form of arm-twisting, to so vocally contest the judging panel's decisions.  The judges were, after all, acting in good faith when asked to judge, and have no doubt done their best, according to the rules.

Sir Andrew has not read all the submitted books, has he?  Indeed, there is a form of Establishment fever in this - a panic that several of the books are by "unknown" authors (in fact, Canadians) - and not London superstars.  Hollinghurst, for instance, has won before.  His new book, while elegant, is a pastiche, and unoriginal.  It hardly betters his previous winner.  And, anyway, Barnes is on the list, and will likely win.  The seemingly-random shortlist was no such thing - it was simply less-elitist, and, refreshingly, untainted by Oldboyism.  Most literary prizes are coterie backslaps in disguise.  The Booker has done itself proud this year, paradoxically, by enlarging the scope of discernment, beyond the usual suspects.  It is no doubt the fearlessness of the spymaster that made this such a superb year.
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