The final selection meeting, he said, brought all the male judges to tears!!

Blimey!

“Michael Portillo, the former Tory minister who chaired the panel of judges, said their decision was "emotionally draining" because they initially split their votes between Adiga and one other on the shortlist of six. The final selection meeting, he said, brought all of the male judges to tears,”

in The Independent today.

And what were the female judges doing when all this angst was going on? And what was the other short listed book that at first split the votes of the panel?

Well, I’m happy enough with that! Although my favourite of the Booker Short list was Sea of Poppies ( a great review to be found here - I can’t be doing with reviewing as it requires too much thinking and I just like enjoying the things) I really enjoyed all 5 of the 6 short listed books that I have so far read.

There is a bit of a hoo-ha about a comment that one of this years judges, Louise Doughty made about the male academics on previous panels being more worried about what their choices say about them and their careers then actually picking a readable book.

I don’t approve of generalisations, but I have to say John Sutherland’s response in CIF is more or less incoherent. I haven’t read anything so badly written in a long time!

My view is this – unless it’s going to be an academic prize then I think the Man Booker should be about good quality, yes, but ultimately readable fiction. I am it seems, well read and have read many Booker Prize long listed, short listed and winning novels. I am definitively a reader of literary fiction and well, I know my stuff. Which is to say, I can tell a good book from a bad and a readable book from an exercise in watching an author disappear up their own backside – or perhaps an English Lit Professors backside, or other such contortions that I really don’t want to go into here.

But whilst readability is key to my enjoyment it has to be good quality. I do not read ‘blockbuster’ or ‘airport’ novels and on the few occasions that I was forced to read them (such as racing across the Atlantic on a yacht when we were limited to one book each and I had to read other people’s or just go mad with introspection!) I have found them largely lacking in any real characterisation and proper motivation and so, so, so predictable (or just random – on account of lack of characterisation and a no real though about motivation and a plot that might hang together).

Still, I’m not in any way, shape or form a literary critic – I can’t be bothered with it. I was dismayed when I was 16, as the wonderful, heartbreaking story Tess of the D’Urbervilles was clumsily hacked to death by having to study or critique it at A Level. And gosh, some of the books on previous shortlists have been dire. Often miserable, dense, too clever by half (it is no accident that my favourite of this years’ shortlist is fundamentally an optimistic book). They seemed to be written to be picked apart by literary critics and academics rather than read by non literary professionals. So I have much sympathy for Louise Doughty point of view, and view criticisms of this year’s shortlist as being mediocre as well, snobbery. Whether the guilty are male or not is not my issue. But given that those at the top of academia, as with many other rewarding vocations, tend to be disproportionately male, they lend themselves to such generalisations (and having a quick look at the gender of those previous judges with the prefix Professor, Louise may have a point). There lies another good reason for diversity: you can spread the blame!

In short, this years’ short listed books were fantastic! I have romped through them, only briefly diverted by Roy Jenkins biography of Asquith. If this is because a lack of male academics on the judging panel then I say: No more male academics on the Booker Prize Panel!

1 comments:

thomas said...
15 Oct 2008, 18:52:00

Yes, a good comment.

I'd like to add that the english language-only criterion might actually contribute to the implication that the prize is designed for marketability purposes.

So I'd like to see a second award for foreign-language/translated books as a means to complement the lists and the judging procedure.

While I share you distaste for the authoritarianism of academics and sexists, I also think the English-speaking world can get lost up itself considering that on current trends maybe 8 out of the 10 best original works published every year are written in languages other than English.

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