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If it glitters, it's gold

If it glitters, it's gold

It has been seven years since the last Man Booker special prize. In 2011, the late, great Beryl Bainbridge was celebrated with the Man Booker Best of Beryl Prize, acknowledging her status as the perennial “Booker Bridesmaid” – five times shortlisted but never a winner. The public vote came up with Mister Georgie as its favourite among her books. Previous special prizes were 2010's Lost Man Booker, awarded to acknowledge a shift in timing in 1971 which meant that various books for 1970 became ineligible: it went to J.G. Farrell's Troubles. Salman Rushdie meanwhile won both the 25th anniversary Booker of Booker award and the 2008 40th anniversary Best of the Booker, both with Midnight's Children. This year, the prize's half century, sees a new special award, the Golden Man Booker Prize to be awarded to the best Man Booker winner from the past 50 years. Five judges have each been allocated a decade's worth of novels from which to choose the “best”: Robert McCrum gets the winning books from the 1970s;  Lemn Sissay the 1980s; Kamila Shamsie the 1990s; Simon Mayo the 2000s; and Hollie McNish the lightest workload with the 2010s. The “Golden five” shortlist will be announced on 26th May, also the day on which voting opens to the public, and the winner will be announced on 8th July at the Man Booker 50 Festival at the Southbank Centre. It is a fascinating prospect: which other prize can offer a WWF-style wrestling contest between such luminaries as V.S. Naipaul, William Golding, Iris Murdoch, Peter Carey, J.M. Coetzee, Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro and Hilary Mantel?

Jim Crace, shortlisted for the Man Booker in 2013 with Harvest, said at the time that it was to be his last novel, he was retiring. Just published, however, is a new fiction, The Melody, so what made him recant? “I made the decision to retire before Harvest was published,” he says. “I was surprised by its success. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won two international awards. Prize money is not for spending on a cruise or golf club membership. It’s supposed to pay for more books, so the puritan in me said I owed the prizes a novel”, which is very decent of him. So is The Melody his final final work? “I’m not taking advances from my publisher . . . But there is another novel to write. It will be set in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve have left.” Always something of a man of the people, Crace isn't about to change now: “I’ve given up the day job of writing for a living and taken up writing as a hobby like so many other retirees.”

A sale of erotic art at Sotheby's in New York has been exercising Siri Hustvedt, Man Booker longlisted in 2014 for The Blazing World. She pointed out that of the 89 works due to go under the hammer, 55 of the featured artists are male compared to only 3 women. Hustvedt had a pop at the auction house's attempts to dress the sale up as “intimately charting the socio-political developments of our many cultures socio-political developments”. What “developments” exactly, she asks? To Hustvedt an auction of this kind, featuring art almost exclusively produced by white men, simply reflects “the socio-political realities of the art world and its ongoing marginalization of female artists and artists of colour”.

David Grossman, the current Man Booker International Prize laureate, has just been awarded the Israel Prize for Hebrew literature and poetry – the state's highest honour. The announcement was met with some controversy in his homeland since Grossman has been a long-term critic of the construction of Israeli settlements on disputed territory. The Israeli education minister Naftali Bennett defended the award, however, in the most forthright of terms: “There are issues on which I disagree with him, but no dispute will remove from the magic of his books,” he said. “He is an Israeli patriot who gave the dearest of all to Israel [Grossman’s son Uri was killed while serving in the army in the 2006 Second Lebanon War]. He is not an author of the Left, and I am not the education minister of the Right. Hezbollah didn’t ask who is Right and Left and secular and religious when boys with different views were killed in the same tank.” Grossman and the Israel Prize have history: the novelist boycotted the 2015 prize when some judges were disqualified for being “not patriotic enough” so it will be interesting to see if he appears in person to accept the award.