The 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction
This year’s judges are, in this photograph by Katy McDonnell, from the left, Matthew d’Ancona, Dame Stella Rimington (chair), Chris Mullin, Gaby Wood and Susan Hill, here with Ion Trewin. With some 130 titles entered the judges have revealed their Longlist See link. The Shortlist will follow early in September. The winner will be revealed live on BBC Television News soon after 10pm on Tuesday, October 18.
The 2011 Man Booker International Prize
To enormous worldwide media coverage the judges of the fourth Man Booker International – Rick Gekoski (chair), Carmen Callil and Justin Cartwright – reached their verdict. The prize, which is for an achievement in fiction and not an individual book, goes to the American novelist Philip Roth. The prize was presented in London at a dinner at the Banqueting Hall, Whitehall earlier in the summer. See link. Rick Gekoski and Ion Trewin will be interviewed by Alan Taylor at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on August 24. see link
It’s a supremely special year all right. When James Naughtie and his judges met to select this year’s Man Booker long list, the first half dozen titles were a comparatively simple choice. Not a shoe-in, but by general agreement. Choosing the remaining seven novels was another matter. Don’t get me wrong. Journalists who were hoping to hear stories of blood-spewed carpets were disappointed. But selecting the ‘Man Booker Dozen’ saw all five judges using every ounce of literary argument as they battled it out.
One of the privileges of being the Man Booker’s literary director is to sit in on these enthralling debates. Sometimes I must bite my tongue: oh how much I would like to add my two pennoth of opinion, but it is more than thirty years since I was a judge! My job now is to advise, to remind judges where necessary of the rules, and to keep an eye on the clock. This year, when the quality of the submissions has been as high as I have known it, I did wonder if to reach a decision on the long list in time for media deadlines a guillotine might prove necessary.
Each year judges identify themes. One remarked how the second world war remains a perennial. Another judge spoke of how the 1940s and 1950s – very much evident in this year’s submissions – leant themselves to characters suffering from repression, not something so common in contemporary life or fiction. Almost half the longlist might be described as historical fiction. What should one read into this? As James Naughtie said in his comments the history this year ranges from the court of Henry VII to the Hollywood of the 1930s.
This brings me to identifying the annual Man Booker controversy. Hardly had the news release hit the screens than abuse hit mine. One publisher’s editor of my acquaintance asked how it was possible to include James Lever’s ME CHEETA, but not ——–. – and here I must be discreet, it being a Man Booker convention that we do not reveal the titles of entries. I have no idea whether the editor question had read Lever’s cod autobiography, complete with photo sections and index I do know, however, that comic fiction has just as much right to be on the Man Booker longlist as the thriller, the romance, fantasy or SF. In each case quality is what counts. By including ME CHEETA on the longlist you should assume – rightly – that it made the judges laugh.
Themes in the discussion ranged wide. The merits or otherwise of creative writing – if it shows does it invalidate the fiction in question? Is writing in the historic present a disadvantage? Feelings were divided on whether inaccurate facts in fiction actually matter, but the irritation factor is definitely not beneficial. Best and worst opening sentences were discussed more than once. But perhaps the most frequent observation was about lapses in editing. Indeed several novels were roundly abused for what looked like no editing at all.
But one of the recurring joys of the Man Booker Prize is the discovery of a writer not previously known. One judge looked forward to reading other novels by a longlisted writer. ‘If they are half as good I’m in for a treat.’
The fact that three of this year’s longlist are debuts demonstrates once more that fiction writing in English is in excellent heart – pity the French or the Italians or the Germans who bemoan the lack of new writing talent in their own languages. As another judge observed our youngest writer is in his early thirties and the oldest has topped eighty proving that authorship knows no physical barriers.
Our judges have now gone off to reread their longlist. It is the severest test of the Man Booker entries that a longlisted book has to survive two readings, and a shortlisted book three, all in the space of a few months. Would some of the great fiction in history stand up to the rereading test? Try it with Dickens or Eliot or Woolf some time.
August 3, 2009
The 2009 annual Man Booker – another vintage year
This mosaic image of the Literary Director of the Man Booker Prizes was produced by Beachhouse Media Limited and is their copyright . It appeared in The Cholmeleian, the summer 2009 issue of the Highgate School magazine.
With more publishers entering books than ever before the number of entries for this year’s Man Booker Prize is up from 114 last year to 132. Unlike many other prizes where a weeding out takes place we ask our judges to read every submission. And they do.
At the beginning of June the judges – James Naughtie (in the chair), Lucasta Miller, Sue Perkins, John Mullan and Michael Prodger – had a progress meeting over supper where one of their tasks was to decide on ‘the call-ins’. To those unfamiliar with the Man Booker rules a publisher may enter two novels (in addition to previous winners and those shortlisted in the past five years). We also ask publishers’ editors to recommend to our judges up to five other titles from their lists. This year the judges had sixty-six call-in letters, from which the Man Booker rules state that they must select a minimum of eight and a maximum of a dozen novels.
Much depends on the way in which editors write their recommendations. I have noticed that judges are increasingly moved by the passion of an editor’s letter. Merely quoting an author’s past reviews, or drawing on those clichés of the blurbs – ‘enthralling’ is a current favourite – is not enough. It is encouraging also to see that the titles called in include both the familiar names as well as first novels.
I am often asked if this is a fair way of selecting entries. As we must restrict the total number of books entered in order that the judges may do their job properly, asking the publishers to select from their lists what they believe to be their best fiction is surely the only way. There is also a long-stop rule, which allows the judges to call in a title even though it has not been entered or included in a publisher’s call-in list. A few years ago one such title only just missed being on the long list.
Some publishers gamble with their entries, submitting lesser-known authors as their main entries and leaving well-known names to the risky waters of the call-in process. But in my experience judges will suss out the best of the year’s fiction by reading rather than by any entry stratagems. For the record in the past five years one eventual winner has emerged from the call-in process.
This year’s judges are well ahead with their reading, which began in January. Friendships have developed to the extent that for their next meeting one judge has offered to cook supper – shades of last year when Hardeep Singh Koli on several occasions showed off his culinary talents to his fellow judges.
As for the quality of the submissions, James Naughtie has already gone on record that this promises to be a vintage year. To which one should add the adjective ‘another’. Last year’s winner, Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger has proved hugely popular with the public, selling more than half a million copies, with one of the runners up, Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture not far behind.
+ The winner of the 2009 prize was Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel