EYES ON THE PRIZE, FOLKS!
“ Booze, of course, and then curtains.” Sir Kingsley Amis, speaking in 1986 when asked how he would spend his Booker Prize cheque…
Since its original launch 50 years ago, the Booker Prize in its various guises – the Booker–McConnell Prize from 1969 to 2001 and subsequently the Man Booker Prize from 2002 to 2019 and simply The Booker Prize from 2020 onwards under the new sponsor, Crankstart – is arguably one of the most prestigious literary awards in the United Kingdom. Awarded to the best original novel written in the English language, in order to win, a novel has to be published in the UK and Ireland. Originally, the prize was only awarded to authors from South Africa, Ireland and all Commonwealth Nations; however in 2014, competition was widened to any English language novel published in the UK.
With this more inclusive strategy, the yearly competition has generated some oddly unbalanced pairings – a literary colossus can be found competing with a younger, less prolific or experienced writer. From the reader’s point of view it can be difficult to judge whether success is the result of a potent combination of turbocharged publicity drives by the bigger publishing houses, carefully crafted social media campaigns, box office tie-ins and relentless sales promotions by discount houses, or some much more elusive and harder-to-determine quality of pure literary merit.
For readers, Booker does its best work by identifying the smaller, overlooked or hidden works that might not otherwise reach a deserving audience. The 2018 winner, Anna Burns’ Milkman is a case in point.
The 2019 Booker Prize announcement on October 14, 2019 is unlikely to spark a quickening of the literary pulse, much less a minor tremor of excitement amongst the Twittering Classes. That should not stop you from exploring works such the extraordinary and exquisite 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak, Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl Woman Other and any of the other short, or long listed nominees. There are some marvelous books out there – just ask your local booksellers!