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Man up you writers

Man up you writers


Paul Beatty, the current Man Booker laureate, is currently in Australia on the literary festival circuit. Whilst there he has been reflecting on the perceived conservatism of the books world: while recently judging a prize he was struck by the ‘sameness’ of the books submitted, ‘It didn’t matter where the book was set or what period the books were set in. I was just like, ‘These books are all the same, they’re structured the same, just all the same tone.’ And I realised they’re just kind of comfortable, even when dealing with uncomfortable subjects.’ Interestingly, he lays the blame for this not at the door of publishers or even readers: ‘it’s the writers who are pandering,’ he says. ‘I think people try to figure out an audience, and sometimes a lot of people write to an audience … Part of that has to do with a need to be liked, kind of writing to be liked in a weird way. I don’t write not to be liked, but I don’t write to be liked.’


Rather than write a follow-up to her 1997 Man Booker winner, The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy turned instead to campaigning. Her activism over the past 20 years in human rights and environmentalism has divided opinion in her native India. Just how strongly she can polarise people was in evidence this week. In response to Roy's criticisms of Indian Army excesses in Kashmir the actor-turned - Bharatiya Janata Party MP Paresh Rawal suggested that Roy could be used as a human shield in Kashmir against stone pelters. In a Trumpian late-night tweet he wrote ‘instead of tying stone pelter on the army jeep tie Arundhati Roy!’ Roy – whose second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Unhappiness, has just been published – has treated the provocation with the disdain it deserves but one fan of hers (and of free speech) tweeted an excellent put-down: “somebody please tie a copy of 'The God of Small Things' on Actor-MP Saab's car. Reading good books makes one more empathetic and tolerant.s


With only a couple of weeks to go until the announcement of the Man Booker International prize winner on 14 June there is still plenty of time to lay a bet – if that's your thing. The odds being offered aren't brilliant, which would suggest either that the bookies don't know what they're doing (and they always do) or that the quality is such that picking a clear front-runner is hard. The favourite, by a nose, is currently Samanta Schweblin's Fever Dream at 5/2 followed by David Grossman, Roy Jacobsen, Mathias Enard, Amos Oz leaving Dorthe Nors at 7/1 as the best way to get rich quick.


With the General Election on 8 June acting as the hors d'oeuvre for the Man Booker International, Dame Hilary Mantel has a keen interest in both. While she works on the last volume of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy she has found time to endorse a candidate for her local constituency in Devon. Like this column, Mantel is not party political, and has endorsed an independent candidate, Claire Wright. The would-be MP responded to the literary endorsement in a manner both bewildered but chuffed: ‘Hilary Mantel is a hugely respected and really talented writer. I am so proud that she is backing me in such a public way. I am sure she knows what it means to me.’ Perhaps all eligible Man Booker winners should come out and proud for their candidate of choice.