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The literature of protest

The literature of protest

If proof were needed of the interwoven nature of literature and the concerns of real life, it was offered at an event at the University of Cape Town in a discussion about the writers selected for the 2015 Man Booker International Prize. As the judges, chaired by Marina Warner, were explaining their choices and countering the suggestion that the list was triumph for the ‘Global South’ rather than the ‘Anglo-Global’ literary world (one of the judges, Wen-chin Ouyang, noted that geography was irrelevant: ‘In China, our West is India and the Middle East. If you go to the Middle East, the West is Europe. If you go to America, what is the West? Is it China . . . Asia?’), proceedings were interrupted when a group of protesters entered the auditorium. They bore placards proclaiming ‘Rhodes Must Fall’, a reference to the statue of the explorer-colonist Cecil Rhodes that presides over the university. They see it as an emblem of imperialism and want it taken down. This was no shouty protest however: the students stood in front of the judges in silence to make their point and indeed were welcomed by the panel. When they left the hall, they were thanked by Marina Warner and applauded by the audience. Now that's the way to do it!


At a separate event, the judges were quizzed about the process of coming up with the 10 finalists. After talking about such things as the niceties of translation, whether it was fair to call many of the novelists ‘unknown’, and how the judges saw the list as reflecting the widest possible range of ways of writing, Elke Boehmer summed everything up perfectly and pithily: the experience had left her, she said, ‘exhausted, frazzled, challenged, fascinated and hyper-stimulated’.


Joseph O'Neill, twice MB longlisted (Netherland in 2008 and The Dog in 2014) has just been named on the shortlist for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction (you need a glass of fizz after reciting the prize's full name). The Dog, his tale of a New York lawyer who decamps to Dubai to act as the overseer of a family fortune, joins, among others, novels by Alexander McCall Smith, Irvine Welsh and Caitlin Moran. MB laureates Howard Jacobson, DBC Pierre and Ian McEwan are former winners. Should O'Neill triumph when the winner is announced at the Hay Festival in May, there could be complications: the prize comprises a jeroboam of Bollinger Special Cuvée, a case of Bollinger La Grande Année and the complete set of the Everyman Wodehouse collection (99 books). The pièce de résistance, however, is a locally-bred Gloucestershire Old Spot pig. Joseph O'Neill lives in New York and while champagne and books are transportable, the chances of the pig making across the Atlantic are negligible – or, as you might say, pigs might fly. 


It has just been announced that Julian Barnes's 2011 Man Booker winning The Sense of an Ending is to join the roster of MB books that have been made the transition onto the screen (Schindler's Ark, The English Patient, Last Orders, Disgrace, Life of Pi and Wolf Hall being just a few of the others). The adaptation is part of BBC Films 25th anniversary and the director has been named as Ritesh Batra (who previously directed The Lunchbox). The adaptation is by the award-winning playwright Nick Payne, whose Constellations starring Jake Gyllenhaal has just closed on Broadway: this is his first screenplay. It will not be the first time Barnes has had a book adapted: as well as the recent Arthur and George (MB 2005 shortlisted), Metroland and Love, Etc have both made it on to the screen. It has yet to be confirmed whether Barnes will follow a fellow MB winner, Salman Rushdie, and make a cameo appearance. Rushdie, it will be remembered, had a big screen moment in Bridget Jones's Diary. He didn't give up the day job.