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Roth the chatterbox

Roth the chatterbox

Having retired from writing in 2012, Philip Roth (Man Booker International Prize winner in 2011) is now retiring from public life altogether. He told Alan Yentob during the making of an Imagine programme broadcast last Tuesday that “this is my last appearance on television, my absolutely last appearance on any stage anywhere”. He’s been as good as his word with regards to writing so it is best to believe him now too. Previously, Roth says, writing took the place of talking and he did not want to “talk, talk, talk, talk, talk . . . now that I don't write, I just want to chatter away” – just not to strangers though.

Hilary Mantel’s double Man Booker-winning novels not only rewrite (in the best possible way) history but they have also made history. One unexpected consequence of their staging as plays at the Aldwych Theatre in London was revealed by the critic Mark Lawson. Last week saw the productions’ press day (with the author in attendance – she confessed she had been asked to write a new line only two hours before curtain up) and, said Lawson, it meant that “for the first time in 45 years, I missed an FA Cup final on TV”. Luckily, the performances were so good that he confessed: “I have no regrets.” Hilary Mantel 2, Arsenal 0.

Linda Grant, Man Booker shortlisted in 2008 for The Clothes on Their Backs, has recently moved home. As a result of downsizing she was forced into a ruthless books cull. So vigorous was the weeding that she confesses: “I have committed murder in my library. I have killed my books.” It was a distressing experience by all accounts: “I kept Jean Rhys, I kept Anita Brookner, I kept Beryl Bainbridge. These books are personal not only as objects but also for the intense relationship I have with the text.” But innumerable others never made it. As Grant points out in an aphorism that should be framed and hung on all book-lovers’ (and possibly interior decorators’) walls: “You cannot have a taste for minimalist decor if you seriously read books.”

If you happen to find yourself in Paris on 23rd June – at 7.00pm to be precise – meander your way to Shakespeare and Company, the celebrated Left Bank bookshop beloved of Hemingway, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald, where Marina Warner and the other judges of the current Man Booker International Prize will be discussing the idea of exile and displacement in the work of writers who live in a foreign country or write in an adopted tongue.

The winner of this year’s Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction is Edward St Aubyn (Man Booker shortlisted in 2006 with Mother’s Milk) for his novel Lost for Words which pokes fun at book awards. As St Aubyn admitted “The only thing I was sure of when I was writing this satire on literary prizes was that it wouldn't win any prizes. I was wrong.” His reward, as well as various bottles of the eponymous champagne, is a Gloucester Old Spot pig. Previous winners of a porker include the Man Booker alumni Ian McEwan, D.B.C. Pierre and Howard Jacobson.