A.L.Kennedy, a judge in 1966, said the Booker was “a pile of crooked nonsense with the winner determined by who knows who, who’s sleeping with who, who’s selling drugs to who, who’s married to who, whose turn it is.”
That sounds like maybe the plot of my next blockbuster crime novel – when people get tired, if that’s possible, of buying Murder In A Cold Climate.
The Man Booker’s grocers’ pervasive mentality showed by the way it didn’t go for Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary, which is only 140 pages long. Such a writer of proven high quality would have been the choice of Fortnum & Mason, if they gave literary prizes.
If anyone were intelligent enough to make me a judge I would have voted for Jhumpa Lahiri because she is so good-looking. She was born in London but went to America when she was two. Her father was the librarian of the University of Rhode Island. I used to live in Rhode Island and part of her book, The Lowland, is set in it. I also went to the same University as Jhumpa but I only studied for two degrees at the same time and she did four. I was working as a reporter on the local paper at the time.
Eleanor Catton, authoress, as we neo-Victorians say, of The Luminaries, the winner, is at 28 the youngest Man Booker winner, and her book is also the longest. She was called “this year’s golden girl of fiction” which sounds good but means nothing. She won an £8,000 Betty Trask Award in 2009 for The Rehearsal. I was once a Betty Trask judge and gave the prize to two people, one was an unpublished novel. That was the sort of thing to do, I thought.
I used to get invited to the Booker Prize dinners and thus experienced some true boredom. There was a comic Booker years ago when my ex-wife was one of the judges. Piles of books arrived at her flat and her number 2 son, the Jimmy Chan of the family, took them and sold them at a bookshop down the road.
I was the literary editor of a weekly magazine and used to loan the missing books to her. That was 1986, the year I won £800 betting on Kingsley Amis’s The Old Devils.
In those days it was the announcement of the odds the bookies were offering against various authors that made the outcome interesting. Before the bookies opened for business no one seemed to write very much about the prize. Once the bookies opened the betting it became a colourful event.
I have not heard about the betting on it in recent years. Maybe it isn’t considered dignified.
Finally, who saw that line-up of dull normals on the BBC talking about the Man Booker shortlist?
They seemed to know nothing about the background of the books. They went on and on about how short Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary was without apparently knowing it was originally written as a play. It had a public “reading” at the Dublin Theatre Festival in 2011. Then it opened on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre in April 2013. It closed after two weeks. Still that explained why the novel was short. If a doddering old fool in a tattered coat leaning on two sticks in the Wild West Country knows this, why don’t they?
They also didn’t know that my best girl Jhumpa was not from West Bengal, but Rhode Island. They praised her inside knowledge of India but were bored by Rhode Island. I don’t suppose we allowed people like BBC pundits into high, High Society in Newport Rhode Island.