Little Prize Lost: The Man Booker International Prize 2015

on Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Much has changed in LitPrize world since the folk at Man Booker opened its doors to any novel written in the English language. Most notably, the Folio Prize beat Booker to the punch by a couple of years and, in doing so, made the latter look like the new kid on the block (not to mention a bit of an embarrassing follower). Legions of Booker loyalists, myself included, have also cooled a bit on what was once an annual hysterical lather trying to figure out which novel would kneel before the Queen for an honorary knighthood and which others would have their heads lopped off. Perhaps the most peculiar change, though, is to the status of Booker's little cousin - The Man Booker International Prize for Fiction. Handed out every second year, it was originally concocted to recognise the kind of writer who was not eligible for the regular Booker (i.e. the non-colonised) but whose body of work (as opposed to any individual novel) deserved a right royal huzzah. That's not to say the Queen's subjects were not in the running - both Chinua Achebe (Nigeria) and Alice Munro (Canada) have won it - but of the five laureates thus far, three fell outside the traditional Booker jurisdiction.

I've often wondered why or how the prize ever got off the ground. It seemed redundant from the get go. Of the many rationales I've enteratined, only one rings really true. Team Booker made the thing up just so that they could give it to the two perpetual Nobel bridesmaids, Ismail Kadare and Philip Roth. Which kind of means they can close it down. Mission Accomplished. Oh well... Still they persist and now they've just announced the ten writers in the running for the 2015 prize. In case you missed it, they are:

César Aira (Argentina)
Hoda Barakat (Lebanon)
Maryse Condé (Guadeloupe)
Mia Couto (Mozambique)
Amitav Ghosh (India)
Fanny Howe (USA)
Ibrahim al-Koni (Libya)
László Krasznahorkai (Hungary)
Alain Mabanckou (Republic of Congo)
Marlene van Niekerk (South Africa)

No points for guessing where my heart lies on this one. I've been routing for Krasznahorkai for the Nobel for umpteen years (mainly because I've given up on Kadare) so it would be gratifying to see him pick up something in the English-speaking world, even if it is a prize as pointless and ill-conceived as this. I just love the idea of sycophantic Booker types trying to make sense of Krasznahorkai's nightmare vision or even wading through the thick primal sludge of his prose. Oh the joy! Of course we all know my form on picking these things. Might as well hand it to César Aira right now. Alas we'll have to wait until May 19. Watch this space.


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