Well I stuck my nose in a conversation about the booker prize and the new prize announced this week as a counter to the booker ,now I view the new prize as a positive move the booker has been around unchallenged as the premier prize for literary fiction in the english speaking world for a long time ,so like most things that have had control of a market for a long time maybe it has got a little flabby at the waist and let its self go a bit and standards have dropped .The new prize is in part a reaction to this years jury which in literary terms is a little lightweight and the choices of long list and shortlist have sparked much discussion on what the booker means in people’s eyes ,also a comment by the judge Chris Mullins in regards readability of the books he choose .I had long been a fan of the booker and have read many shortlisted booker books over years .
So what does the booker mean to me as a prize well I look at literary fiction a like Everest we maybe have to be like sir Edmund Hilary reach the peak but then climbing didn’t stop and give up ,no but like all climbers we look for the new unclimbed peaks however hard ,or the new route up the mountain via a new path ,or a new way of climbing that maybe dangerous or innovative and I think this metaphor works for the booker and reading for me in general I like to challenge myself . This is what reading as the climbing metaphor is ,not for climbing the same route or going to Ben Nevis and making out it is a hard as climbing Everest ! So that said what does this reader look for in his booker shortlists and winners well I ve a few things, and will use previous winners and shortlisters to show what I look for and why I think the prize has drifted of late as most of the books mention are pre 2003 –
I like a book that shows the bounds of the english languages and what can be done with it I perfect example would be James Kelman how late it was ,how late a book that showed the ability of language and regional accents a book wrote in a clear broad Glaswegian accent was it readable well if you were from Glasgow yes but otherwise it was a wonderful insight into how broken english can be shattered and remade in Scotland into a brutal but effective language that suits its setting .
Now I m going pick two books both works of magic realism the are Midnights children by Salman Rushdie and Famished road by Ben Okri both winners in the 80’s They both approached the Magic realism genre in different ways Rushdie use it as a blueprint for the tale of modern India ,Okri as a way to open village life in Africa and Africa myths to the reader .Keneally Schindler’s ark also did same for biographical novels .#
sets a new mark
I like books that when you read you can say that will be cited for years after as a turning point in fiction .I ve got a recent winner in mind Wolf hall I think even thou I didn’t really enjoy it ,I can see it being a book that has raised the bar on historic fiction and will be the one the people say was a game changer and will be the one people read to get inspired to write historic fiction .
Now some writers just oozes talent now around booker shortlist it is obvious who has influenced english literary fiction for years people like Beryl Bainbridge and William Trevor although neither won a booker both have had multiple short-listed books over 20 plus years why because the constantly show the bounds of the English language Peter Carey and J M Coetzee have both won on more than one occasion and this is due to there talent as writers both try to set a new path to follow with each new book and usually succeed in showing how you can be different even in the same field of fiction .
There are the things I look for in a winner books that try to climb Everest set new marks and leave me as a reader want more ,I think the rot set in with the booker in 2003 the short lists since then have been weaker that earlier ones so a new prize is welcome and well all be able to judge what difference it has made to the booker and what direction the new prize is set in .Although I must note it is a missed chance for a general prize for literary fiction that also including translations published within in a year .I personally think this hasn’t happened because it would show how much great fiction is coming to readers from outside the English speaking world !! that does all of what I state in the qualities of a booker winner and usually far better
What do you think ?