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Betting, Books and International Fiction

Betting, Books and International Fiction

The announcement trailed in last week’s newsletter caused much speculation, as Jonathan Taylor revealed at the press conference on Tuesday. Was the Man Booker Prize taking over the Samuel Johnson Prize? Were American authors going to be expelled? In fact there were sighs of relief and cries of approbation all round when it was revealed that, from next year, the Man Booker International Prize would be giving a fillip to translators and translation. Publishers and booksellers have welcomed the news warmly – calling it a ‘huge boost’ (Jonathan Ruppin, Foyles) and the marriage with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize a ‘wonderful combination’ (Christopher Maclehose, Maclehose Press).

The major change for the Man Booker International Prize prompted The Economist to explore the impact of book prizes. The article notes that prizes have begun to shape publishers schedules and acquisition strategies, and also includes a very colourful graph showing the ‘spike’ caused by winning the Man Booker.

‘Stories are timber, nailed up against the wind, blowing in from oblivion’ was one of Marina Warner’s conclusions in her exploratory series What is a Story? on BBC Radio 4 this week. Not sure what part the author plays in this metaphor but the contributions to the series from Man Booker International 2015 finalists – from Alain Mabanckou to László Krasznahorkai - certainly nailed it.

News from down under is that ‘exciting two-year-old’ horse Man Booker is living up to his name and winning all the races, having overcome misfortune to win the opening race at Belmont in Western Australia. He has ‘an outstanding turn of foot’ apparently.

On a related note, Ron Pollard, who changed the face of bookmaking by introducing betting on everything from Miss World to the (then) Booker Prize passed away this week.  Obituaries recounted how he decided on the odds for the Booker – reading the first 60 pages, a similar number in the middle, then the last sixty pages. He used slightly more unorthodox methods to judge the odds for Miss World – disguising himself as a carpenter working on set to make close inspections.

If that has whet your appetite for a literary bet, William Hill is already offering 33-1 on Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman to win this year’s Man Booker Prize.