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Reducing Novelists to Tears

Reducing Novelists to Tears

Various male Man Booker authors have been blubbing their hearts out in the name of charity. Poems that Make Grown Men Cry, edited by Anthony and Ben Holden, is a collection of verse that brings out the lachrymose side of a swathe of men not usually known for welling up. The book has been produced in partnership with Amnesty International. Messrs Jacobson, Rushdie, Okri, McEwan, Hollinghurst, Tóibín and Hamid are among those joining the likes of Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Nick Cave and Mr Darcy (Colin Firth) in whipping out the hanky. The poem that most affects Howard Jacobson is Wordsworth's ode to eternal love Surprised by Joy (“Surprised by joy – impatient as the Wind/ I turned to share the transport – Oh! With whom/ But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb”). Alan Hollinghurst too chooses a poem of painful love, Thomas Hardy's At Castle Boterel (“my sand is sinking./ And I shall traverse old love's domain/ Never again). If you want cheering down, the book is published by Simon & Schuster.

Innumerable Man Booker novels have, over the years, been turned into films but the current trend also seems to be to adapt them for the stage. Hilary Mantel's Man Booker winning brace Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies have already proved huge hits in the theatre, Yann Martel's Beatrice and Virgil, his follow up to Life of Pi, is currently playing in Toronto, and now an adaptation of Colm Tóibín's The Testament of Mary (Man Booker shortlisted last year) is about to open at the Barbican in London (from 1st May). The production reunites two powerful theatre women – Deborah Warner directs Fiona Shaw as Mary. The book itself is exceptionally short – a mere 112 pages – which means that the play, at one hour and 20 minutes, will unfold at pretty much the same speed as the book.

Spear's magazine recently posed the question “Which books of today will make it on to 'must-read' lists in 2080 and join the eternal works of Hemingway and Orwell in the literary world?” They asked assorted writers and bookish types for their tips and Man Booker authors did pretty well. Edward St Aubyn (Man Booker shortlisted in 2006 with Mother's Milk) made the list, as did Hilary Mantel – though not as you might expect with her Man Booker winners but with her early French Revolution novel A Place of Greater Safety. Also singled out was this year's laureate, Eleanor Catton. Unfortunately there is a wait of 66 years until the pundits' clairvoyance skills can be verified.

The campaign to persuade the justice minister Chris Grayling to reverse his decision to deny books to prisoners continues unabated, with Man Booker authors to the fore. The latest salvo, organised by the writers' charity PEN, sees well-known authors making suggestions as to the books they would recommend to those detained at Her Majesty's pleasure. Martin Amis (Booker shortlisted 1991) proposed Primo Levi's If This is a Man – “It is a masterly evocation of something much worse than prison: murderous enslavement for the crime of being born.” Sarah Waters (Man Booker shortlisted 2002, 2006 and 2009) reckons Tolstoy's Anna Karenina is the perfect book in the circumstances: “It’s long, leisurely, but absolutely gripping: a novel in which to lose yourself for hours at a time.” Meanwhile the current chair of Man Booker International Prize judges, Marina Warner, thought Kafka's The Complete Short Stories would be best: “Kafka is the brilliant storyteller about fear, justice, and the law.” If that sounds overly gloomy, luckily “He is illuminating and often very funny.”