The Booker prize, according to its official web site, 'promotes the finest in fiction by rewarding the very best book of the year'. And 'best' in these quarters is defined in terms of literary fiction.
It turns out that the 2007 prize was awarded last night. The winner was Anne Enright, who was apparently the outsider, and her novel The Gathering is 'a bleak story of a dysfunctional Irish family'. This is not, you will understand, a novel that I am about to rush out and buy. But nevertheless, the circumstances of the award provide much more entertainment than the average literary novel ever does.
The laughs came from the introductory remarks which were made by the Chairman of the judges, Sir Howard Davies. You can read all about it in the Times. Basically, what the Chairman had to say was that too many reviewers are far too kind to literary novels, being very reluctant to do anything except heap praise upon them. 'There appear to be some novels,' he said, 'where people leave their critical faculties at home.'
He quotes examples. Ben Okri's latest book was, he said, 'more or less unreadable, but you would never catch that from the reviews because of the status that Okri has achieved'.
J.M. Coetzee's latest was described by Sir Howard as 'a strange construct which I don’t think comes off as a novel. Yet it was treated with exaggerated deference by many reviewers.'
No! Who would have guessed it? Who would have thought that the literary establishment in London would be ensuring, with a few exceptions, that only nice things are said about lit'ry books, while books issued by small presses and written by unknown writers are steadfastly ignored?
Sir Howard, the Times said, stopped short of accusing authors of back-scratching, but the Times itself has more guts. In an editorial, the paper lays out the facts in plain English.
Presenting the Man Booker Prize last night, Howard Davies referred to a curious habit of literary critics. Their curious habit is to review each other’s books fulsomely. Author X selects Author Y’s novel as her Book of the Year. Author Y reciprocates by reviewing Author X’s novel as the most ripping yarn since Rudyard Kipled and Haggard Rode. In London’s literary tent, everybody is related to, or in love with, or in debt to, or has expectations from, everybody else.Well, I told you publishing was a friendly business, only last week. 'Caveat lector,' says the Times. 'Select your reviewers (and books) with care.' Indeed.
Such general thoughts as I have had upon the Booker prize appeared here in January 2005. I have nothing to add, except that you might like to sit back and watch it all happen to Anne Enright, the winner who wasn't expected.