40 Years on We're Dancing the Booker Disco

on Monday, February 1, 2010
Just when I thought I'd survived another literary award silly season, the earnest folk at Booker Inc have announced that they will finally be awarding the Booker Prize for novels published in 1970. Turns out there was a change of criteria in the early days of the prize, as explained on their website:

"In 1971, just two years after it began, the Booker Prize ceased to be awarded retrospectively and became, as it is today, a prize for the best novel in the year of publication. At the same time, the date on which the award was given moved from April to November. As a result of these changes, there was whole year's gap when a wealth of fiction, published in1970, fell through the net. These books were simply never considered for the prize."

So it now looks as though poor Bernice Rubens, who won it that year for The Elected Member, will have to share her accolade with one of the 22 shortlisted authors.

Of greater concern, however, is the dual threat now posed to the literary time/space continuum. Firstly, the prize's name has undergone a commercially-driven metamorphosis in the past forty years. Will the winner be awarded a "Man" Booker Prize, resetting history as we know it and confusing the hell out of all the subsequent winners in their parallel catch-up universe? Will any of those other works even be written the second time round? I pity parallel universe me, who rather enjoyed The Life and Times of Michael K and The Inheritance of Loss (though I won't be upset to see The Line of Beauty or The Sea disintegrate).

Also, if either JG Farrell, Iris Murdoch or William Golding wins this 'Lost Booker' they will have beaten both Coetzee and Carey to the double. Until now, we thought it had taken until 1999, when the reclusive South African bagged it for Disgrace, for an author to win it twice. But Farrell won his in 1973 for The Siege of Krishnapour, Murdoch hers in 1978 for The Sea, The Sea and Golding his in 1980 for Rites of Passage. Any of those might now turn out to have been their second and John Maxwell might have to live without one of his greatest accolades (though I dare say a Nobel ought offer some consolation). I wonder if, after the Lost Booker is announced, subsequent editions of his novels will omit the line "first person to win the Booker Prize twice".

As for the longlist itself, it really is an interesting cross section of mid-flower power literature. I recommend you go to www.themanbookerprize.com to see who made it and have a go at picking who might get the honour. Personally, my tip is Patrick White's The Vivisector and not only because he's an Aussie. It's just that I'd hate to see the great JM Coetzee having to dust an empty space in his mental trophy cabinet because of a simple headline grab by some foppy bookish spinners!


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