You are here

Weekly Roundup: Lydia Davis, sentence-long author

Weekly Roundup: Lydia Davis, sentence-long author

Press reaction to a prize is always interesting to watch. The reporting of Lydia Davis winning the Man Booker International Prize this week has been no exception. Some reports were straightforward (“Man Booker International Prize goes to Lydia Davis” – BBC News), some showed a wounded national pride (“Ananthamurthy loses Man Booker International Prize to Lydia Davis” – Livemint), but the (unofficial) prize for the pithiest headline goes to the Irish broadcaster Newstalk. “Sentence-long author wins Man Booker Prize”, it proclaimed, which, even though it confused its prizes nevertheless has a certain Davis-eque ring to it. “A sentence-long author” would look rather good after “Occupation” on her passport.

Natalie Haynes, one of this year's Man Booker judges, recently delivered a progress report to The Independent. This year's panel must read 150 submissions and she's just reached the half-way point. The waymark is not a reason for joy, however, the pressure is just getting greater. “We had 50 books to read in the first three months, and a book every other day is fine. Then publishers submitted more. A lot more. My reading speed had to double overnight: between March and July, I will have read the final 100 books in 100 days. You get ahead sometimes (a couple of short books in a row), and then a 900-page monster lurks behind them on the shelf, gobbling up the spare day and spitting out its bones. It's like running on sand, but less healthy.”

Robert Macfarlane, chair of this year's judges, is clearly well used to running on sand. Not only is he reading like the clappers but has found time to write and print – yes, print – a new book of his own. Along with fellow writer Dan Richards and the artist Stanley Donwood he has produced Holloway (“Holloway – a hollow way, a sunken path. A route that centuries of foot-fall, hoof-hit, wheel-roll and rain-run have harrowed deep down into bedrock”). Everything about the volume is hand-crafted, from the writing to the pictures to the printing. Or, as Macfarlane puts it, “we melted the lead to cast the type to set the text to crank the press to print the pages to make the book”. Authors please take note: merely writing a book is no longer enough.

In a recent interview, Tan Twan Eng (MB shortlisted 2012 and recent winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize) revealed that what goes through a lawyer's mind in court is not just the details of a case. Eng studied the law before becoming a writer: “It trained me to evaluate every word I use, to appreciate the nuances of language. A lawyer has to see all sides of the issues, and so must a writer. My characters are morally ambiguous and complex because life isn’t clear-cut black and white.” While other lawyers may have seen possible criminals in the dock, he saw possible characters.