Saturday, October 08, 2005


Monday is the Booker. There was a BBC4 documentary going through the 6 on the shortlist. It does seem both a strong and a safe list this year. Probably any of the books would be a worthy winner. The subject of Sebastian Barry's "A Long, Long Way" (to the source of the title) - Irish soldiers fighting for a united Britain in the Great War, just before Irish independence, seems a clever one. Though whether I'll read it is another matter. His style sounded a little over-poetic for my tastes, and having read "Birdsong" and "Atonement" in the last few years I'm getting a little case of Trench foot myself. There seems ample reason for choosing such a historical subject. Ishiguro's book, in comparison, is a science fiction dystopia, about clones that have been born and raised for their organs. Coming so close on David Mitchell's tackling of a similar subject in the standout section of "Cloud Atlas" I wonder how it will fair. Interesting that science fiction can still have an allure for so-called literary writers, though maybe its something in the air at UEA, since McEwan trod futuristic ground in his somewhat unsatisfying "Child in Time" (name a novel after a dodgy seventies prog-rock track and you're asking for trouble!). At least the future contrasts nicely with the generally historical tone of the list. I think its unlikely that either of the female Smiths (no, not a new girl group, but Zadie and Ali) will win, (though its 5 years since the MAN prize was won by a woman) and I guess my money would be on Julian Barnes. But, I've not read any of them yet, and in general, the best book does win. A look back at previous shortlists doesn't seem to have got it too wrong. A strong year such as 2001 probably chose the wrong big name, (Carey seems in decline to me), whereas a poor shortlist explains McEwan's winner with the below standard "Amsterdam". Maybe its the passing of time, but I had to go back to 1986 to find a travesty ("Old Devils" ahead of the "Handmaid's Tale"), and there are books on each of those early eighties lists which you could argue were an improvement on the winner. Obviously good books haven't made the lists as well, but the Booker does what it tries to do, reasonably well. Its a barometer of the literary times, but may well be placed in the wrong part of the literary house, to be an accurate portrayal of the weather. And a "Booker" book though it undoubtedly exists, changes over the years - more recently its been light populist, with a tinge of pseudo-Americanism to it, but this years list seems to have eschewed that - its comfortable history, all our yesterdays. Like the Tory party is still has a vague idea of what its for, but can't always work out what that means! Salman Rushdie = Margaret Thatcher? Reinventing the institution. I'll leave the analogy there.

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