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The Man Booker and the ballot box

The Man Booker and the ballot box

The general election may have been on most people’s minds of late but the 10 authors on the finalists’ list for the Man Booker International Prize have a different date with the ballot box. It is now a little more than a week (19th May) until Marina Warner and her fellow judges cast their votes. Eight of the 10 nominated writers will be travelling to Britain for the announcement and their presence will give home readers a chance to familiarise themselves with the truly international span of the list. Hoda Barakat (Lebanon), Maryse Condé (Guadeloupe), Mia Couto (Mozambique), Fanny Howe (America), Ibrahim al-Koni (Libya), László Krasznahorkai (Hungary), Alain Mabanckou (Republic of Congo) and Marlene van Niekerk (South Africa) will all be present.


The writers are not here simply to bask but will have to sing for their supper. Six of them, having shaken off their jet-lag, will to take part in an afternoon of readings and interviews for a Guardian Live event at The British Library on Sunday 17th May. The next day three of them will be at Birkbeck College, University of London, for an event with English PEN about literature in translation. The winner’s work, however, is still not done . . .  he or she will be interviewed by Marina Warner at the Hay Festival on 24th May. Catch them while you can.


By way of relaxing after her endeavours Marina Warner will be appearing at the Ledbury Poetry Festival in Herefordshire in early July. The works she will have to have read may be shorter than those comprising her current workload but the mental effort will be just as demanding. She is appearing on 7th July with the poet and former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams to discuss the rather vast topic of ‘Poetry and Belief’. Good luck with that. Poetry is one of several strings John Burnside, a current Man Booker Prize judge, has to his bow. He will be having a brief respite from his novel reading duties to take part in a series of workshops during the festival. Then it is back to work: the Man Booker Prize longlist is announced on 29th July.


Returning to the theme of international fiction, the Tunisian Shukri Mabkhout has just won the International Prize for Arab Fiction with his debut novel The Italian. The book, inspired by the events of the Arab Spring, treats recent Tunisian history through the person of Abdel Nasser, nicknamed ‘the Italian’ due to his good looks, and takes in coups of a romantic as well as political kind. The prize is run with the support of the Booker Prize Foundation and as well as a $60,000 cheque Mabkhout will also have his novel translated into English – a key aim in widening appreciation of the region’s literature.


Finally, just to prove that everything Man Booker related isn’t relentlessly high minded, Margaret Atwood (Man Booker winner in 2000 and shortlistee in 1989, 1996 and 2003), has been turning her capacious mind to the Duchess of Cambridge’s wardrobe. She told an audience at the V&A that: ‘I think she dresses quite uneventfully, I think she’s watching her back, I think she probably has people who pretty much tell her what is appropriate for her to wear.’ The new mum has not ‘become the fashion plate that Diana was’. This close attention to the royal dress sense makes one wonder if the Duchess is being lined up for a role in Atwood’s next book.