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The Nobel gets there, 18 years late

The Nobel gets there, 18 years late

Just as long as the Nobel Prize committee knows, the Man Booker spotted Kazuo Ishiguro first.  Many congratulations are due to the unassuming Ishiguro on winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, a mere 18 years after he won the then Booker Prize for The Remains of the Day. Ishiguro joins a very select band of joint Man Booker-Nobel winners alongside Alice Munro (Man Booker International Prize in 2009 and Nobel in 2013), J.M. Coetzee (1983, 1999 and 2003), V.S. Naipaul (1971 and 2001), Nadine Gordimer (1974 and 1991), William Golding (1980 and 1983). Doris Lessing, Nobel winner in 2007, almost became a member of this club, being Man Booker shortlisted in 1971, 1981 and 1985.

On hearing the news, the modest Mr Ishiguro assumed it was another case of “fake news”: “You’d think someone would tell me first but none of us had heard anything,” he said. “It was completely not something I expected, otherwise I would have washed my hair this morning.” Once the idea had sunk in a bit, the thoughts of the self-depreciating novelist quickly turned to his peers: “Haruki Murakami, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy, all of them immediately came into my head and I just thought wow, this is a bit of a cheek for me to have been given this before them.” And, as a sign that great praise can play mind games, to his age: “because I’m completely delusional, part of me feels like I’m too young to be winning something like this. But then I suddenly realised that I’m 62, so I am average age for this I suppose”. This, in turn, was quickly followed by the hope that “I don’t get lazy or complacent, I hope my work won’t change. And I hope that younger readers aren’t put off by the Nobel.” Ishiguro is a musician as well as a writer, and numbers last year's Nobel laureate Bob Dylan among his heroes, so perhaps he will spend some of the 9 million Swedish krona (£832,000) prize money on adding to his collection of guitars.

Since fate clearly has a rollicking sense of humour, the man who beat Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go to the 2005 Man Booker Prize, John Banville (The Sea), has a new novel out: Mrs Osmond, a sequel to Henry James’s The Portrait of A Lady. In an interview discussing the book, Banville prais ed James’ work as a ‘great feminist novel’, regardless of whether the original author may have intended it – something he wants his sequel to build on. Banville noted that growing up he could see ‘how badly treated women were, and how badly they treated themselves’ and how he’d always wanted to say to women: “The difference in beauty between you and whoever – Greta Garbo – is a matter of centimetres, millimetres, so stop worrying.” So has he tried it? No, “It was hard to do, because the pressures of society, especially when I was growing up, it was only 20 years after the war, there was still the process of getting women back into the kitchen.” You might think the task could be no harder than taking on Henry James's most celebrated book but apparently not. “I didn’t feel that I was walking on somebody’s grave or chewing on somebody’s corpse,” he says. “I felt that there was a book there to be done” and it was only looking back on it that he felt “foolhardy and stupid”. By then, of course – to the delight of his readers – the book was already written.

As the calendar creeps ever closer to the announcement of this year's Man Booker winner (17th October), The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-fiction has just announced its own shortlist. The six authors (Christopher de Bellaigue, David France, Kapka Kassabova, Daniel Mendelsohn, Mark O’Connell, Simon Schama) whose books encompass everything from the Aids crisis to refugees to the story of Jewish people, will have to wait until 16th November to see who emerges victorious – and richer to the tune of £30,000. 

One of the Man Booker shortlistees, Fiona Mozley, has just revealed she's on a bit of a roll. As well as being one of the six Man Booker hopefuls she is also sitting pretty at the top of the football fantasy league group formed by the owners and members of staff of the bookshop she works at in York. While her Man success has been greeting by them with “unanimous joy”, “My success in our league, however, has not been,” she remarked.