Submitted by Leah on Fri, 2014-05-09 16:14
The bookselling behemoth Amazon has just announced a “bucket list” of the “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime”. Despite the fact that 100 doesn't seem a particularly large number for a lifetime (unless it's a very short life), the list numbers numerous Man Booker authors alongside must-reads such as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby. Man Booker winners Salman Rushdie (Midnight's Children), Thomas Keneally (Schlindler's Ark), Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient), Graham Swift (Last Orders) and Julian Barnes (The Sense of an Ending) are joined by Ian McEwan (Atonement), Zadie Smith (White Teeth), Roddy Doyle (The Commitments), Kazuo Ishiguro (Never Let Me Go) and Martin Amis (London Fields). It is good to know that in the eyes of Amazon, Man Booker authors are responsible for one tenth of the most unmissable books ever written.
Next month Foyles, the venerable bookshop on the Charing Cross Road in London, is opening a new store, in the former Central St Martin's art school, just down the road from the original premises. To mark the occasion Foyles is staging a literary and cultural festival of writers and writing from 11th June to 5th July. Hilary Mantel will be opening the store and amongst others taking part in the festival will be the serial Man Booker shortlistee Sarah Waters (three nominations and she has a new novel out this year). Also appearing is Jarvis Cocker who penned the Britpop anthem Common People – a term I'm sure he wouldn't dare apply to Mantel or Waters.
In a recent interview, Marina Warner, chair of the current Man Booker International Prize judges, gave an interesting insight into her tastes: “I realised from my reading that when a novel tracks the surface world in a naturalistic or realistic fashion I like it less than when the writing takes the world one stage further into a kind of… well, the word sounds very teacherish … a kind of parable. I’m thinking of writers who push what’s happened on to a more intense plane.” She also confessed to liking love stories and ones where “terrible things happen”. So writers of blandly realistic slice-of-life novels should not get their hopes up.
Will Self, Man Booker shortlisted in 2012, has hardly been a bundle of joy recently. Writing in the Guardian recently he opined that serious fiction is dying: where once “the literary novel was perceived to be the prince of art forms, the cultural capstone and the apogee of creative endeavour” it is now on an irreversible downwards slope because “the hallmark of our contemporary culture is an active resistance to difficulty in all its aesthetic manifestations, accompanied by a sense of grievance that conflates it with political elitism”. Self is not the first to make such an observation. If literary fiction is indeed dying then it continues to have the longest of deathbed scenes. The evidence of the Man Booker would also seem to suggest that the near-corpse jolts back to hale and hearty life with great regularity.
Alison Moore, Man Booker shortlisted in 2012 for The Lighthouse, is playing at poachers-turned-gamekeepers. She is the judge of the inaugural Bridport Fiction Prize. The Bridport Prize was originally for short stories and poetry but has now grown to include fiction and flash-fiction sections too. Moore might want to take plenty of notes, the experience of doing the judging rather than being judged sounds ideal material for a lively scene in her next book.