You are here

William Trevor, the Man Booker 'Best Man'

William Trevor, the Man Booker 'Best Man'


Beryl Bainbridge was always held to be the ‘Man Booker bridesmaid’, gathering five nominations but never winning the prize. In 2011, by way of recognition, a special Man Booker Best of Beryl prize was awarded to her (posthumously) for Master Georgie. Over the course of a long and distinguished career William Trevor also received five nominations (the last in 2009) and should therefore be called the Man Booker Best Man. Trevor is usually thought of as the master of the short story but as all those nominations show, he was a preternaturally gifted novelist too, as attuned to the feelings of his characters as to the nature of the Ireland they inhabited. It is, therefore, a great sadness that this gentle man – a true gentleman – has just died, at 88. Time surely for a ‘Man Booker Top Trevor’ prize.



Among those who have paid tribute to Trevor are a clutch of Irish Man Booker winners. Roddy Doyle (winner 1993) said, ‘The man – the work – was brilliant, elegant, surprising, reliable, precise, stark, often sad, sometimes funny, shocking and even frightening’; Anne Enright (winner 2007) called him ‘a master craftsman . . . watchful, unsentimental, alert to frailty and malice’; while John Banville (winner 2005) thought that Trevor ‘at his best was the equal of Chekhov’. Some of Trevor's own words floated back too, including perhaps the best definition of the short story ever written: ‘I think it is the art of the glimpse. If the novel is like an intricate Renaissance painting, the short story is an impressionist painting. It should be an explosion of truth. Its strength lies in what it leaves out just as much as what it puts in, if not more.’



Further to Philippe Sands giving away his £30,000 reward for winning the Baillie Gifford Prize for non-fiction, this column noted that the last such action was John Berger back in 1972 giving his Booker Prize winnings to the Black Panther movement. In fact a much more recent Man Booker winner, Richard Flanagan (2014, The Narrow Road to the Deep North), has form here too. In 2014 the Tasmanian donated his $40,000 prize money for winning the Australian Prime Minister's Literary Prize to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.



This is something to think about for a pair of Man Booker writers who have just been shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award 2016, Rose Tremain (a one-time shortlistee and two-time Man Booker judge) and Sebastian Barry (a one time shortlistee and twice longlistee). Should either of them win the category they will receive £5,000 and if they then go on to scoop the book of the year gong they can add £30,000 to that. Decisions, decisions . . .



Oh dear, poor Eleanor Catton. Shortly after becoming the youngest ever Man Booker winner (for the longest book) Catton was commissioned by the BBC to adapt her epic novel The Luminaries for the small screen. Things have not gone smoothly. Various professional screenwriters took one look at the complexity of the task and turned it down before Catton took up the challenge. ‘I was naïve in basically every way a person can be naïve,’ she said recently. ‘I had an idea that the book would be much easier to adapt than it is. It's actually a complete nightmare.’ So much so in fact that the only way she has found to make the book work as a six-part television series is to, ahem, change the story.