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Weekly Roundup: Canuck writers make the headlines and Man Booker novelists run to the sun

Weekly Roundup: Canuck writers make the headlines and Man Booker novelists run to the sun

The 30 finalists for the assorted categories of America’s National Book Critics Circle Awards have just been announced and the five novels on the fiction shortlist include Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being (Man Booker shortlisted last year and the subject of a short interview about her writing life). She is up against some heavyweight competition, most notably in the shape of Donna Tartt’s whopping The Goldfinch. The winner will be announced on 13th March. Such prizes used to be curiosities for Man Booker aficionados but now that the prize is open to American writers too the winner will have an added interest. Two other novels on the list are eligible for MB nominations: Alice McDermott's Someone Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah.

Canadian novelists are in the news again. The country has a claim on the current MB winner Eleanor Catton and is the home of Alice Munro the Nobel laureate, so it was strange of the American novelist Gary Shteyngart to take a swipe at its literary credentials. “I was the judge of a Canadian prize,” he recently commented, “and it's subsidised, they all get grants. Out of a million entries, we found four or five really good ones, but people just don't take the same damn risks! Maybe they want to please the Ontario Arts Council, or whatever it is.” Needless to say, such a slight did not go down well north of the 49th parallel and Shteyngart has had to apologise, claiming he had taken a drink or two when he made the comment.

Another, unsubsidised, Canadian novelist is, of course, Margaret Atwood (MB winner in 2000). Evidence of how seriously she has always safeguarded her private life can be found in a television interview with CBC’s Hannah Gartner filmed back in 1977. It makes for gripping if uncomfortable viewing as the interviewer persists in misunderstanding the nature of Atwood’s portrayal of male-female relationships. Gartner's opening line, “Margaret, your stories make me very sad,” draws the response: “Oh, that's too bad.” There's plenty more of the same after that. In the end though Atwood gives some very revealing insights into the nature of writing, her own personality (“I am not a pessimist but an idealist of the most extreme kind”) and why she doesn't like interviews (“If I stood on my head in front of the camera, what would it matter ultimately?”) These days, of course, Atwood is a pussycat.

Good news for fans of Francis King, whose books have just been re-released as e-books and print on demand by Bello Books. King was an extraordinarily precocious writer who published his first three novels while still at Oxford. He went on to be a Booker judge in 1976 and in 2003 was longlisted for The Nick of Time. Coincidentally, 2003 was the same year that the current chair of judges, AC Grayling, first officiated on the prize.

If you are suffering from the mid-winter blues, look away now: various Man Booker novelists are heading for Jaipur (where the Man Booker International Prize list of finalists was announced last year) for the literary festival there that opens today. Among the writers talking in the Pink City are the 2013 long- and shortlistees Jhumpa Lahiri, Tash Aw, Jim Crace and Alison MacLeod, as well as previous nominees Justin Cartwright and Philip Hensher.