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The indomitable Nadine Gordimer

The indomitable Nadine Gordimer

The death this week of Nadine Gordimer has brought about a flood of reminiscences. Although she is best known outside her native South Africa as a novelist (among other things winning the then Booker Prize in 1974 with The Conservationist, being twice more longlisted, judging the Man Booker International prize and winning the Nobel Prize) her political activities were arguably as important to her. Gordimer was a committed anti-apartheid campaigner who became a close friend of Nelson Mandela, to the extent that she even wrote one of his most famous speeches, “I am prepared to die.” She was also a tireless campaigner for Aids charities.

Gordimer was indomitable too: when, in 2006, thieves broke into her home and started to punch and kick her housekeeper, the novelist berated the attackers with such ferocity that they locked her in a cupboard to escape the tirade. When she was eventually let out she merely commented: “Oh well, it’s my turn to experience what so many others have.” As was appropriate for a novelist who wrote her first work aged 15, had her first book published in 1953 and her last in 2012, she remained conscious that writing is a public as well as a private activity: “The creative act is not pure,” she once said. “History evidences it. Sociology extracts it. The writer loses Eden, writes to be read and comes to realise that he is answerable.” Her readers will be forever grateful that she sacrificed her Eden so willingly.

Fans of Eleanor Catton should start saving now. The reigning Man Booker queen is soon to publish her first work since The Luminaries. Her essay, Questioning The Zodiac, will be illustrated by a fellow New Zealand artist and produced as a limited edition collectors’ book to raise money for a the Manukau Institute of Technology, where Catton has taught creative writing. The 3,000-word essay uses some of the astrological ideas that went on to find fuller expression in The Luminaries. Appropriate perhaps, since anyone who manages to bag a copy can thank their lucky stars.

The stars in alignment can also possibly be seen in the fact that this year is the 30th anniversary of Anita Brookner’s Booker Prize win with Hotel du Lac and that this week has seen her 86th birthday. In a recent appreciation, the writer Laura Thompson stated her belief that Hotel du Lac will prove to be one of the most enduring of all Man Booker winners and that Brookner’s style, “rigorous and droll and almost repressively civilised” will come to be seen as the perfect medium through which to express “terrible truths . . . about love, loss, ageing, life itself”.

Now that the World Cup has, finally, come to an end, it might be worth remembering one of its more unlikely offshoots. The Guardian asked its readers to dream up potent football teams comprised entirely of writers. Man Booker novelists were much-picked players. James Kelman (winner in 1994), for example, figured in one team as a no doubt hard-tackling and expletive-spitting left back; the lofty Will Self as a good-with-his-head centre forward (heading home crosses supplied by DBC Pierre) in another; while one enterprising manager decided that the unbeatable team would have J.M. Coetzee playing in all 11 positions. If that team ended up winning, the post-match interviews with the famously laconic Coetzee would be short to non-existent.

Speaking of dream teams, Wednesday (23 July) will see the 2014 Man Booker ‘Dozen’ announced. Watch this space!