Blog Entries
The Prize is Right?
Category: Writing

When the winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize was announced as Anna Burns’ novel Milkman, my curiosity was aroused, not so much by the book, but by the comments of chief judge Kwame Anthony Appiah. He said that the book was a challenge, “but in the way a walk up Snowdon is challenging”. He added that Milkman is “enormously rewarding if you persist with it”.

My curiosity was satisfied by Allison Pearson’s excellent and very balanced Daily Telegraph article, which not only laid bare the body of this strange work, but also buried it.

Experimental novel Milkman is set in Northern Ireland during the troubles and narrated by an 18-year-old girl who finds herself pursued by a sinister, much older paramilitary figure, the Milkman of the title. Anna Burns writes in long paragraphs and there are no names. Instead, the narrator is known as “middle sister”, while other characters are “third brother-in-law” or “first brother-in-law” and a chirpy, car-obsessed “maybe-boyfriend”. Even the book’s title is a dark joke: the IRA delivered petrol bombs in milk crates to doors at the corner of every street.

Allison considers herself a rather good and passionate reader, but judges the novel as “undeniably hard work” and not exactly the kind booksellers expect to fly off the shelves. She also takes issue with Appiah’s comment of “enormously rewarding if you persist with it”, being of the firm opinion that you shouldn’t need to persist with a great book, you shouldn’t be able to put it down. I echo the comments of the last speaker.

So why did what sounds like a real clunker win one of literature’s richest prizes? When Booker McConnell established the award in 1969, it was open to British, Commonwealth and South African writers. In 2002, the Man investment group took over sponsorship and increased the prize from £21,000 to £50,000. Most controversially, in 2013, eligibility was broadened to any English-language novel. To quote Allison once more: “it wasn’t hard to foresee what would happen when the juggernaut of US creative writing was allowed to bear down on a Morris Minor”. Since then two Americans have won, and the longlist and shortlist are packed with US novelists. There were two excellent US novels on the 2018 shortlist, one the bookies’ favourite, but with a prize now fending off accusations of American dominance, neither could be adjudged the winner.

Allison: “Not only is Milkman not the best book on the shortlist, it’s not even the best book on the longlist where Warlight cast its spectral magic and Normal People told a love story that had critics swooning”.

The Booker Prize seems to have been racked with controversy from the beginning. Winner of the 1994 award, James Kelman’s How Late It Was, How Late provoked a storm of criticism. Judge Rabbi Julia Neuberger declared it “a disgrace” and “crap”. WH Smith’s marketing manager condemned it as “an embarrassment to the whole book trade”. It’s one of a long line.

Judges are not simply the same old faces. Each year, an advisory committee is formed which includes a writer, two publishers, a literary agent, a bookseller, a librarian, and a chairperson appointed by the Booker Prize Foundation. The committee selects the judges from amongst leading literary critics, writers, academics and important public figures. Rarely does any judge sit a second time. But many in the literary world cast serious doubts on the ability of a small number of insiders to choose a ‘best book’. The Guardian introduced the "Not the Booker Prize", voted for by readers, partly as a reaction to the system.

Literary prizes should be awarded to the best works. Period. We can do better.

RSS

Who's Online
This Month on Writers Abroad
Thursday, November 1, 2018
November 2018 News
Writers Abroad

Promote your Page too
Our Book Shelf

Writers Abroad's Bookshelf

The House at Zaronza
tagged: writers, abroad, vanessa, couchman, historical, and fiction
Love is All You Need: Ten tales of love from The Sophie King Prize
tagged: writers, abroad, sophie, king, prize, alyson, and hillbourne
Out of Control
tagged: writers, abroad, nina, croft, members, and publications
The Duke's Shadow
tagged: the, duke-s, shadow, louise, charles, debut, and novel
Foreign & Far Away
tagged: writers, abroad, amanda, hodkinson, books, charity, anthology, 2013...
Losing Control
tagged: writers, abroad, nina, and croft
Enchantment
tagged: nina, croft, writes, and abroad
Conversations with S. Teri O'Type
tagged: writers, abroad, christopher, and allen
Break Out
tagged: writers, abroad, ninca, and croft
Deadly Pursuit
tagged: writers, abroad, nina, and croft
The Calling
tagged: writers, abroad, nina, and croft
Big Book of New Short Horror
tagged: featuring, wa, member, alyson, and hillbourne
Tiger of Talmare
tagged: writers, abroad, nina, and croft

goodreads.com
Networked Blogs