Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Booker Prize Shortlist: Are the judges out to get me?

Sophocles: Should be a Booker Judge
I think the Booker Prize judges are out to get me. Some of you may remember that I threatened to leave the country if A D Miller's Snowdrops got on the short list. I have no beef with A D Miller. I am sure that he is a very nice man, and I am sure that his novel will be enjoyed by many who like that sort of thing. But whether it deserves to be on the shortlist of what is meant to be the best novels of the year is another matter entirely. I have long since ceased to feel angry about the list. What's the point, after all? Perhaps it all comes down to taste, in the end, and who can argue about taste?

But the problem is, it isn't just about taste. There are objective criteria which can be applied to books to judge their quality. And it doesn't seem as if the judges have applied any criteria at all to this list, other than their own taste. In the Athenian festivals of tragedy, you wouldn't put up a satyr play on the same level as Sophocles. But that is effectively what these judges are doing. One can bang on and on about who the judges are – but I don't think that necessarily matters. It just seems as if they are trying to make some sort of statement about the state of books. But whatever it is, it's rather confused.

It makes the Booker (sorry, the Man Booker, as we are bound to call it) look silly. How can it be taken seriously as an internationally renowned literary prize when it allows a paper-thin thriller on? Where is the richness, the nuance? Giles Coren has written a piece about Julian Barnes in The Times, suggesting that Barnes is too good to win the Booker Prize. And sadly, it looks like he's right.

Perhaps the only way to succeed now is to write dross. Perhaps we are entering a world where 'content' is all, where style, substance and meaning come second to immediacy and thrills. Perhaps the Booker Prize next year will see "Shit My Dad Says 2" and the Beano Annual on it. After all, they're both entertaining, aren't they? And that's all that matters, to be entertained.

So I shall be leaving the country. I'll be going back to the past. If you need me I'll be with Sophocles.

An edited version of this piece appears on The Periscope Post
Read my review of A D Miller's Snowdrops for The Daily Telegraph here

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