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Weekly Roundup: Fluttering in the literary dovecote

Weekly Roundup: Fluttering in the literary dovecote

It is fair to say that the decision to open the Man Booker Prize to American and other English-writing authors outside Britain, the Commonwealth, Ireland and Zimbabwe, has caused a certain amount of fluttering in the literary dovecote. It is a measure of the prize's prestige that the news instantly went truly global. It was mentioned by such disparate organisations as the Times of India, the Japan Times, the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly and the Iran Book News Agency. No word yet though from the Inuit Chronicle or the Martian Telegraph.

Among all the noise and concerns in the British press that native writers would be crushed by the newly-enfranchised Americans, Natalie Haynes, one of this year's MB judges, writing in the Independent, made the point that many flustered commentators seem to have missed: “books by Americans still need to be published in the UK if they’re to be considered. In theory, that means that the standard of books submitted should go up. Any book that’s been picked up by first one publisher, and then another on the opposite side of the Atlantic, should have something going for it”. It won't, therefore, mean British writers being swamped by an American tide but rather that a small but pure stream of transatlantic fiction will now flow into the existing MB river.

Following the MB rule change it is worth noting that prizes are a two-way street. Jumpha Lahiri, Man Booker shortlisted for The Lowland, has just been nominated for America's National Book Awards for Fiction. The shortlist will be announced on 16th October, and the winner on 20th November. Lahiri has been nominated alongside the fabled Thomas Pynchon – fabled that is for being reclusive. Let's hope keeping such company doesn't mean that she goes AWOL before the Man Booker is awarded (on 15th October).

The National Book Foundation, which makes the National Book Awards, has also recognised another of this year's MB shortlistees, NoViolet Bulawayo. She is one of the novelists named as their 5 under 35 Honorees. The accolade carries weight because the novelists have been selected by former NBA winners and finalists. Bulawayo was selected by Junot Diaz who, among other awards, is the recipient of is the recipient of a “MacArthur 'Genius' Fellowship” no less.

One beneficiary of the Man Booker rule change is Lionel Shriver (We Need to Talk About Kevin). Domiciled in England for many years, she has long looked on the MB with such envy that earlier this year she even considered applying for British citizenship so that she would be eligible for entry. Now she doesn't have to. And nor does she have to sit the citizenship test: sample question (real), “The Grand National is a horse race. True or False?”