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A rich harvest for Jim Crace

A rich harvest for Jim Crace

Jim Crace is still reaping the rewards of his Man Booker 2013 shortlisted novel Harvest. Crace, with Hermione Lee (Man Booker Chair of judges 2006), has just been awarded the James Tait Black Prize. Of his book about the destruction of a rural community in a non-specific historical past the judges said: “It is a novel fit to be ranked among his very best, which means that it can be considered one of the distinctive achievements of contemporary literature in English.” Reasonable comment for one of the most distinctive literary voices currently at work. Dame Hermione, meanwhile, picked up her award for her biography of Penelope Fitzgerald (a Man Booker winner back in 1979 with Offshore). Lee's book, the judges reckoned, “provides a masterclass in writing of this type”. The prize is one of the oldest going, having started in 1919. Crace and Lee are now both better off to the tune of £10,000.

The publishing behemoth Penguin Random House is having a good year with no fewer than five of this year's longlisted Man Booker 13 on its books – Howard Jacobson, Joshua Ferris, Ali Smith, Richard Flanagan and Neel Mukherjee. To celebrate their inclusion the authors have been talking to Alex Clark (herself a Man Booker judge in 2008): their thoughts can be hear here.

One of those authors, Howard Jacobson, recently made a startling admission of insecurity. You might have thought that a nap hand of prize-winning novels, including, of course, the Man Booker in 2010, would have proved to him that he can “do it” but no: “No matter how arrogant a writer seems, he is always uncertain. Confident people don’t write novels. They become bankers or footballers. And no matter how energetic you seem, you never know how good you are.” Jacobson the goalscorer? Jacobson in a banker's hand-made suit? They don't quite cut it. Better by far for his admirers that he keeps that kernel of self-doubt.

Summertime, the Man Booker 2009 shortlisted novel by the two-time winner J.M. Coetzee, was recently selected by a newspaper as one of its top 10 fictional biographies. Coetzee is well-known for being, at times, a dense and difficult writer to get a handle on and this book, in which a would-be biographer attempts to gather material about a writer called John Coetzee does nothing to makes things easier. What is most notable about Summertime is just how hard J.M. Coetzee is on the character of John Coetzee. It is usually one's enemies that highlight one's imperfections and less-desirable traits, here J.M. does it with gusto.