Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Booker Shortlist 2010

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

I'm very happy, as I have just found out that Howard Jacobson's "The Finkler Question" is shortlisted for this year's Man Booker Prize.

I discovered Howard Jacobson quite a few years ago ("Peeping Tom," set in Cornwall, was my first), and he has been one of my favourite authors ever since. He has been longlisted twice, but I think that this is his first time on the shortlist. The Waterstone's web page announcing the shortlist comments that "The Finkler Question" has been hailed as a "real return to form by the critics." I wasn't aware that any of his recent books had been off form.

I do have a slightly fractious relationship with the Booker Prize. It has always seemed curious to me that the Booker has faced criticism for ignoring female writers, and then seemed to enshrine this criticism by renaming itself the Man Booker. I have to admit to naively and stupidly not realising at first that this renaming was due to corporate sponsorship. Now that I know that the Man prefix is due to sponsorship, I can't help feeling that the company name is a little too painfully apt given the criticism of male bias. Even though the last winner was a woman - Hilary Mantel for "Wolf Hall" - the accusation of a preference for male writers seems hard to shake.

Which leads me on to the issue that I have with the Orange Prize for Fiction. Just as the Man prefix seems to hint again at a preference for male writers, I have an issue with a prize that is just for female writers. My response - maybe more instinctive that intellectual - is to feel that a prize just for women seems to support the idea that a female writer would not win a prize when judged against male writers. It feels a little like "Here, have this to keep you happy since you aren't likely to win the MAN Booker."

I didn't intend this to turn into a rant about prizes for fiction - it started off purely as a blog to say how happy I am that Howard has got in there. I have decided, by the way, from now on I'm going to drop the Man as protest and as laziness. Contrary to the impression that this blog might have given, I find the Booker fascinating, and I'm in favour of anything that helps support the book industry. I even thought that if I ended up as an academic, I would have liked to try and run a course on the Booker Prize - it would have been interesting to pick a year and form our own jury (particularly for the year when there was a draw between Michael Ondaatje's "The English Patient" and Barry Unsworth's "Sacred Hunger").

I believe the announcement of the winner will be on 12th October, and I will be interested to find out who wins. I'm sure the 2010 Booker will feature in my blog again over the next few weeks - I might even try to read them all in time to make my own decision (though this is our busiest time at work, so that probably won't happen).

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