Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Man Booker Prize Winner 2012

Hilary Mantel has won the Man Booker Prize for Bring Up the BodiesMantel is the only British novelist to win the Booker twice, first for Wolf Hall in 2009, and now for its sequel in 2012. I have always thought her other novels Booker-worthy, too. If they gave her the award for two novels about Thomas Cromwell, that's fine with me.  

Yet I am less keen on the Booker Prize than I used to be. If I didn't have access to British newspapers, the literary gossip wouldn't ruin prizes for me.

In 2011, the Booker scene was a burlesque worthy of Kingsley Amis or Pamela Hansford Johnson.  First, Carmen Calil, the founder of Virago Books, resigned from the  International Booker Prize panel of judges because she believed the prize should not have gone to Philip Roth.  Next, the chair of the judges for the Man Booker Prize, Dame Stella Rimington, emphasized the prize would go for readability, and the panel shortlisted many poorly-written, violent books.

2012 Man Booker Prize Judges
This year, the chair of the Booker panel of judges, Sir Peter Stothard, editor of the TLS, talked about the preeminence of literary fiction and pushing the edge of language. I respected that. Then he alienated me by saying bloggers were ruining literary criticism and literature.

That was a bad PR move.  

I am very glad I don't live in England, because there was something so humorless about the way Robert McCrum of The Observer/Guardian, normally not a literary gossiper, stuck together with him over his indiscretion.   On Stothard's statement that not all opinions were equal, McCrum said, 

"Rather than simply denounce this position, I think we should take it seriously. Stothard has a point:  the citizen journalist's review is not the same as the professional critic's." 
Of course the point is that neither one reads blogs, or they wouldn't believe that bloggers were competing with them.  

As for the high literary standards of the Booker judges, I have my own opinions.

A bookmaker told The Telegraph earlier today that Mantel’s novel was favored (6/4) over Will Self’s Umbrella (2/1).  I knew Umbrella would not win.  Despite Stothard's emphasis on high standards, it would have been suicide to select Umbrella, a brilliant, possibly great, obscure "Joycean" novel.  Since bloggers all over the world missed the allusion to the Kinks' "Apeman" in the first sentence (and I wonder if all the judges caught that allusion), it is safe to say that book buyers would not have been happy.  

Stothard (apparently) said, according to the Guardian, that the judging was a process of "rigorous literary criticism." I think we can trust him on that.
I will happily write him and all the judges a fan letter if I read Mantel's novel and love it.  

If I read and love  Narcopolis, one of the finalists on my coffee table, I will write another fan letter to the judges.

Honestly, I don't have anything against them.

I am a friend of literature, I hope.


Anthony Spors said...

I think it is time to point out that the 'professional critics' frequently are as giddy as high school cheerleaders in their attempts to increase the sales of their friends' novels. Whoever is reviewing a novel, blogger or professional critic, one must take what they say with a huge grain of salt.
I'm still disappointed "Harold Fry" did not get the Booker this year.

Frisbee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Frisbee said...

If they're giddy, that explains it!

I'm two and a half years behind on the Booker Prize. But Hilary Mantel's book is on my Nook.

Sherry Jones said...

I loved WOLF HALL so much, I read it twice. But BRING UP THE BODIES, ultimately, bored me. I didn't care about any of the characters, and Mantel's premise that the men executed along with Anne Boleyn were victims of an old grudge by Cromwell is completely implausible. The writing, though, is as hauntingly beautiful as ever.

Frisbee said...

I read Wolf Hall last spring and loved it, but didn't go on right away to Bring up the Bodies. Probably next year I'll get to it... I sort of had a crush on Thomas Cromwell (!), but not enough that I wanted immediately to read the sequel.

I didn't hear too much chat this year about the Booker shortlist this. There was something by Deborah Levy that looked good, but I haven't ordered/borrowed it yet. (Maybe it's not available here yet.)

INow we have the National Book Awards, and amazingly I have heard of these books.