Independent Foreign Fiction Flop

on Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Lucky I'm no longer a betting man. Having lost on previous Bookers (and stupidly not betting on ones that I picked back at longlist stage), I was half tempted to drop a few dollars on Dasa Drndic or Ismail Kadare to win the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. I couldn't fault my logic - if they wanted to be daring, they'd pick Drndic. I've made my feelings about Trieste abundantly clear on this blog before, so no need to rehash. If, on the other hand, they wanted a more traditional narrative work, Kadare is the go-to guy on the list. The Fall Of The Stone City was a great return to form and would have been a very deserving winner. Either way, my puppy can thank me that I can still afford his dinner because I would have lost big time. The prize was announced this morning and it went to Gerbrand Bakker for his novel, The Detour.

Personally, I think Drndic, Kadare and Enrique Vila-Matas were robbed. I don't mean to imply that The Detour is a bad book. Far from it. Bakker is a wonderful writer and this is one of his strongest novels. It's just that giving him the award seemed the easy option, the 'populist' choice. People who pay attention to prizes (are there many of us left these days?) would pick up The Detour and almost certainly enjoy it. They won't be challenged in the way they would have had they been directed to Trieste or Dublinesque. In the sense of lifting the prize's profile, and making sure people come back next year in the hope of finding another book to enjoy, it all makes perfect sense. It's just a shame that none of the more challenging novels on the shortlist got the ultimate gong.

There is some consolation to be had. The five that were passed over still beat superstars like Knausgaard, Pamuk and Binet to the final heat. That's got to count for something. Meanwhile, let's hope my love of, and support for, Aharon Appelfeld doesn't prove the kiss of death for him with the Man Booker International Prize.


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