Submitted by Leah on Fri, 2014-09-19 15:14
To celebrate the fact that this year the Man Booker has been opened up to all novels written and published in English, regardless of nationality, the Guardian recently had an interesting exercise and asked various eminent literary bods which American novels would have deserved to win the prize in previous years. Among respondents, Martin Amis plumped for Don DeLillo's 1985 White Noise (the MB was won that years by Keri Hulme's The Bone People); Joshua Ferris, one of this year's contenders, reckoned Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon would have pipped Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things to the 1997 prize; Peter Carey thought that Kent Haruf's Plainsong would have deservedly won the 1999 prize which went to J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace. This last might though just be a bit of mischief making; not only is Disgrace widely regarded as one of the great novels of the late 20th-century but Coetzee is, with Hilary Mantel, the only other writer to match Carey's own two MB wins.
One of this year's judges, Sarah Churchwell, has been speaking to the Times Higher Education magazine about prizes, academia and life in general. As well as a very curious answer to the seemingly straightforward question “Where were you born?” – “Technically I was born in Virginia”, she gave her criteria for judging book prizes. “I don’t like books that don’t like language – it’s their medium, and I want them to revel in it”, she said. “I think language gets lost too often these days. I can’t stand when judges suggest that something difficult or challenging will be inaccessible to 'normal' readers, whoever they are: I think that’s snobbish as hell.” If the phrase “normal readers” has yet to emerge in this year's MB discussions then her fellow judges have now been warned . . .
Man Bookerites past and present have been recognised by the Dylan Thomas Prize. The gong is awarded to “the best published or produced literary work in the English language, written by an author aged 39 or under” – whether of prose, poetry or a play – and is worth a healthy £30,000. Eleanor Catton, Man Booker queen still for a matter of weeks, features. As does Joshua Ferris, one of this year's MB shortlisted novelists. Unlike Catton, a mere stripling of 29, Ferris just sneaks in. He is 39 and hits the big four oh in November – less than a month after finding out whether he has won the MB.
Catton is one of the writers scheduled to attend the Jaipur Literature Festival in late January. She will be joined by Neel Mukherjee, another of this year's shortlisted writers. V.S. Naipaul, who won the then plain Booker Prize in 1971, is also scheduled to attend. This could make for an exceptionally lively affair since Hanif Kureishi, who recently wrote a novel – The Last Word – with a very (unflattering) Naipaulish figure at its heart, and Paul Theroux, with whom the venerable author had a spectacular public falling out, are both also attending. Both Catton and Mukherjee are gentle sorts so they had better take their flak-jackets with them.