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Weekly Roundup: Tea and sympathy for the Man Booker judges?

Weekly Roundup: Tea and sympathy for the Man Booker judges?

There was much talk (and sympathy for the judges) this year about the 151 submissions for the Man Booker Prize. Some observers felt faint at the prospect of such a mountain of reading – though all the judges, it must be said, are still alive and well. Rick Gekoski, a former MB judge (2005) and chair of the Man Booker International judges in 2011, took an interestingly different view. Don't feel sorry for the judges, he said, “They know what they are signing up for.” Having to read substandard novels was a valuable part of the whole process, he thinks – “though I did end with a considerable list of writers whose next book would not be on my must-read list”. He reasoned that “For the first time I encountered a very wide range of novels published in a given year – a window on fiction at a given moment . . .  reading so widely was a handy way of highlighting how and why one novel may be different from, and better or worse than, another.” But then in 2005 Gekoski and his peers had a teensy-weeny 110 novels to work through.

This year's MB winner Eleanor Catton is currently in Canada where she is appearing in assorted literary festivals. She is also in the running for the $25,000 Governor General's Literary Award, which will be announced in Toronto on 13th November. While on her Canadian perambulations she spoke candidly about the effects of her new-found fame: “What I want to say is I hope that nothing in my life that I care about changes – you know, my relationships with my family and my friends and my work. I hope that that stays the same or develops in its own way, according to its own speed. One thing I don't want is for this to get in the way of my relationship with myself.”

One of the books Catton pipped to the prize, Colm Tóibín's The Testament of Mary, has been turned into a play by Fiona Shaw. The one-woman show, directed by Deborah Warner, will be staged at the Barbican in May 2014. The play about the last days of Jesus as witnessed by his mother comes garlanded with praise: it had a spell on Broadway earlier this year where it was nominated for three Tony awards.

What, one wonders, does Julian Barnes (MB winner 2011) make of being shortlisted alongside a graphic novel about a man with a “gigantic beard”? The smooth-shaven Barnes's Levels of Life is one of the books shortlisted for the Waterstone's Book of the Year. As well as Stephen Collins's The Gigantic Beard that was Evil, Barnes faces competition from the Kate Atkinson (Life After Life), the late John Williams (Stoner), Maps by Aleksandra Mizielińska and Daniel Mizieliński, and Nina Stibba's Love, Nina. The winner will be announced on 3rd December – just enough time for Barnes to grow a beard.