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The great British Man Booker-off

The great British Man Booker-off

Almost there. While one of the triumvirate of national prizes – Strictly Come Dancing – still has weeks of sashaying to go, the other two are reaching a conclusion on consecutive nights this coming week. The Great British Bake Off will announce its winner on Wednesday 26 October preceded, as is only right and proper, by the Man Booker Prize on Tuesday 25. Split loyalties for Sue Perkins who was, of course, a Man Booker judge in 2009. Surely, given the crumbling of GBBO, a place on the Strictly panel should be hers next year. For literature fans who can bear the tension, the 2016 Man Booker winner will be announced on BBC news. The nation will be red in the face from holding its breath for two consecutive nights.

The winner will still be dizzy when the reality of being the Man Booker laureate kicks in: the weeks following their unveiling will be a blur of interviews and events. One of the first will come on Friday 28 when the new champ will be in conversation with the New Statesman's literary editor Tom Gatti at Foyle's on the Charing Cross Road in London. If you have ever wondered what an author in a state of shock looks like, buy your ticket now.

The outgoing Man Booker winner, Marlon James, has spent a good chunk of the past year talking about his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. He recently let slip both the lack of control an author can have over his or her work when the writing takes off and some sophistry when it is done. When James started on his Man Booker winner it was meant to be the shortest book he'd written. He was reading a lot of crime fiction and the authors ‘were people who got in a book and got out in 150 pages and I was trying to write that novel’. No chance; A Brief History of Seven Killings turned out to be ‘the longest book I’ve ever written . . . it’s 688 pages but it’s actually an 800 page novel, but we figured that would freak everybody out, so we reduced the font size and widen the margin’. Sneaky but effective, as it turned out.

The award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Bob Dylan has divided opinion, with many deriding the award to a singer and others lauding the decision. Among those in the latter camp is Andrew Motion, chair of Man Booker judges in 2010, who half-inched one of the traditional definitions of poetry when he said that Dylan's songs are ‘often the best words in the best order’. One wonders though if there isn't a closer Man Booker connection: the prime mover behind Dylan's award might just be another Man Booker judge, Christopher Ricks, chair of the Man Booker International in 2013. It was Ricks, a former Oxford Professor of Poetry and one of the most eminent literary scholars of his generation, who was the first to write a lit-crit analysis of Dylan's lyrics (Dylan's Visions of Sin, 2003) and Ricks who was writing about Dylan as litterateur back in 1972. The gravelly-voice singer, says the Prof, ‘is the greatest living user of the English language’, comparable to Tennyson, Milton, Wordsworth, Eliot, and ‘that Dylanesque writer, William Shakespeare’ (can't see it myself). There's a case to be made that no Ricks, no Nobel.

The afterlife of Man Booker nominees is a long one. For example, the Jaipur Literature Festival, which takes place from the 19 to the 23 January 2017, has started announcing the authors who will be appearing. The names are being revealed in groups of ten (oh you teases!) and among the first batch are no fewer than four Man Bookerites: Eka Kurniawan, the first Indonesian to be nominated for a Man Booker International Prize; Alan Hollinghurst, Man Booker winner in 2004; Richard Flanagan Man Booker winner in 2014; and NoViolet Bulawayo, 2013 Man Booker shortlistee and the first black African woman to make the list. The Man Booker spotlight, it is clear, is not just for Christmas . . .