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The Golden Man Booker glitters

The Golden Man Booker glitters

The Golden Man Booker shortlist – the five Man Booker winners from the past 50 years selected by a panel of judges as the best of their respective decades – was recently announced at the Hay Literary Festival. The selection seems to have gone down well. A headline from the Independent sums up the general response: “The Golden Man Booker: Good writing has won out over famous names”. The public vote is now open.

Looking at the other headlines that greeted the announcement it is clear as to who is seen as one of the favourites and who isn't. Some newspapers, magazines and websites were neutral – “Golden Man Booker Prize shortlist revealed” (Irish Times) – while others went straight for their pick of the names. “Hilary Mantel shortlisted for the special Golden Man Booker Prize” (Telegraph); “Mantel, Saunders, Ondaatje make Man Booker 'Golden Five'” (The Bookseller); “Mantel, Saunders up for best-ever Booker Prize accolade” (Washington Post); “Michael Ondaatje among finalists for 'Best of the Booker' prize” (The Star). A brief totting up suggests that Mantel and Saunders are out in front with Ondaatje just behind and V.S. Naipaul and Penelope Lively not being fancied. Since we currently live in a time of surprises this clearly means that either Naipaul or Lively is a sure-fire winner.

The new Man Booker International Prize winner, Olga Tokarczuk, was also at Hay, still trying to take in just what had happened to her. “I am really lucky that a book I wrote more than 10 years ago is given a new lease on life in a different culture and different language zone and is still seen as relating to the current times,” she reflected. She hopes too that her win will open the eyes of readers everywhere to the work of her compatriots: “Polish literature can be interesting to the world. I'm happy to be the trailblazer.”

Salman Rushdie, whose omission from the Golden Man Booker has raised a few eyebrows (“Booker drops Rushdie” is how one Indian news site, somewhat sensationally, put the news), was also speaking at the festival. Among his subjects was the phoniness of the film industry, witnessed painfully when he was approached seven years ago by the US TV company Showtime to write a series. He worked on a sci-fi idea and submitted various drafts: “Every time I sent them a draft, they would say: ‘This is the best thing we have ever seen, never in the history of television… it is original and startling and mind blowing, we are so totally with it!’” So the series was in the bag then? Not quite. “This happened for a year,” said Rushdie, “and at the end of the year I got a text message saying: ‘We’ve decided not to go with it.’” The moral of the story, he says, is “Believe nothing. Believe nothing until you’ve got the contract.”

An interesting piece from Canada about the deaths of the 2011 Man Booker International Prize-winner Philip Roth and of the great journalist-novelist Tom Wolfe. They were, says the writer, Susan Cole, both “central to America’s very male literary establishment” and their multitudinous achievements deserve all the plaudits they have received because they changed their respective spheres – the novel and long-form journalism. Nevertheless, she continued: “These two authors’ deaths signal a shift in the literary landscape in the US, with the male dominance that defined the literary scene turning into a thing of the past.” Although Roth famously gathered literary power with age, things are different now. “Celebrate these writers for what they contributed,” said Cole, “but know that new generations of writers, with women leading the way, will – while appreciating past invention – doubtless be creating new priorities.”