Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Kiran Wins!

Kiran Desai has scooped the 2006 Man Booker Prize. The news of her win was broadcast last night on the BBC's 10 o'clock news, when the chair of the judges, Hermione Lee, called The Inheritance of Loss:
... a magnificent novel of humane breadth and wisdom, comic tenderness and powerful political acuteness.
And said that it:
... was chosen, after a long, passionate and generous debate, from a shortlist of five other strong and original voices.
In the Guardian, John Sutherland, chairman of last year's Man Booker said:
Desai's novel registers the multicultural reverberations of the new millennium, with the sensitive instrumentality of fiction, as Jhabvala and Rushdie did in previous eras. The setting moves between the Himalayas and the skyscrapers of New York - and it wins Britain's premier fiction prize. It is a globalised novel for a globalised world.
Me? I'm happy. Happy not just because the book thoroughly deserves its win, but because it's a book that will widely enjoyed (unlike Banville's the Sea, which deserved to win, but wasn't enjoyable for the general reader).

The Booker book of books should be the one which has the greatest literary merit. Of course. But many readers will only pick up literary fiction once a year when the prize result comes out and there's all the hype about it in the papers.

But amid all the celebration for Desai, this caution from John Ezard in the Guardian should give us pause for thought:
... the current book prize and publishing markets increasingly treat novelists as promotable contenders with their first and second books, mature talents by their third, and possibly old hat, no longer fashionable or burnt out, with their fourth and subsequent titles. After winning this year's Orange prize for her third novel, On Beauty, Zadie Smith, built up for six years as an ultra-celebrity, said at the age of 31 she felt she had no inspiration left for a next book. Among other well-thought of and, in some cases, strongly tipped novelists who fell in this authorial night of the long knives were the veterans Nadine Gordimer with her story Get a Life and Howard Jacobson with Kalooki Nights; James Lasdun with Seven Lies; Jon McGregor - in previous years considered a brilliant newcomer - with So Many Ways to Begin; Claire Messud with The Emperor's Children; Andrew O'Hagan with Be Near Me; and Barry Unsworth, once a joint winner of the award, with The Ruby in her Navel. After the initial surprise, few of those who have read all the titles disagree that the newcomers Matar, Desai and Hyland were well-merited choices. The question left by the contest is whether new talent is in danger of being overmarketed and overexposed too soon.
You can read more opinions on Desai's win or post your own on the Guardian blog.

If you have had not time to read the shortlist, you might like to check out John Crace's very funny digested reads of all the Booker finalists here. An excellent piss-take!

I will post up links to other sources as I find them.


The Guardian blog has a great round-up of what the papers are saying around the world about Kiran Desai's win.

I particularly love the one from the Times of India:
The novel, set in India, was written during trips to India. Kiran said: 'I went back to write the Indian bits in India, so it wasn't entirely from a distance.' Kiran's writer mother, Anita Desai, was not at the awards dinner as she was in India.
Erm ... is the author by any chance, Indian?

The blog also quotes the Australian Herald Sun which says that runners-up MJ Hyland and Kate Grenville expressed relief at not having won, which is probably not just putting a brave face on things. The pressure on a winner must be enormous, and being shortlisted perhaps enough reward in itself.

Thank you for your opinions in the comments to this post. I love the Booker and to me whether the best book is finally chosen in the end is not the issue (How do you judge "best" when the books are of such quality, anyway?) but the fact that it's got us all talking and arguing books.

We can argue some more later because the result of the Nobel Prize for Literature is going to be announced today! (12th)

Update lagi!

Kiran Desai talks to Laura Barton of the Guardian about her win and why her Indianess is so important to her.


acid burn said...

I just read about this in the news and headed straight here. Although I buy books all year round, I must admit that I'm guilty of taking more interest in award-winning-hyped-up books... When I read your review of the book on Sunday, I immediately put it down as a 'must-get'. Now that Desai has won the Booker, I guess I'll cement my image as a 'buyer of award-winning-books only'

Lydia Teh said...

Acid burn, I'm also an award-winning book buyer. Logic behind this : if it's good enough to win a book price, it must be pretty good to read. But not all award-winning books are enjoyable, as Sharon pointed out. Reading her review of Banville's The Sea, I know I won't like it, so it's no go for me. I'm still struggling with Zadie Smith's On Beauty. Though I enjoy the writing, the story doesn't grip me enough for me to flip the pages impatiently. Gao Xinjian's Soul Mountain is still sitting pretty on my shelf, with only a few pages read.

Lydia Teh said...

Oops, book prize not book price. It's easy to win a book-price. Just price it sky-high.

Sharanya Manivannan said...

I had a feeling it would win! Avoided this book, actually, because I thought "Hullaballoo in the Guava Orchard" was really atrocious. But now I feel like I have a cultural responsibility to read it (added to list that includes: must watch Mistress of Spices, must leave CNN on whenever PM Singh is featured, must... )!!!

Hopefully, it'll surprise me. :)

Glenda Larke said...

As a writer myself, I think we should - in one sense, and that is technically - only get better the more we write. Just as, say, a bricklayer improves the more bricks he lays. However, there's more to writing that technical skills. There's also a deep passion for the topic, the story, the characters.

If later books don't live up to the first one(s), then I suggest it has nothing to do with hype, and everything to do with a lack of passion. Perhaps the writer has already written the things he felt deepest about, and later books reflect this. They become more trivial to the writer, and therefore to the reader.

bibliobibuli said...

there's no need to feel apologetic about going for the books that win awards - an award win should be a kind of guarantee of quality and reading pleasure. i hope you like book, after i've recommended it. the only reservation i had about the novel is that is has a pretty complex plot - when i wrote my review it was difficult to actually get a grip on the story becasue it bulges out all over the place. it does all come together though. in the end, thank goodness.

lydia - "soul mountain" is a book our reading group tackled and only 2 people could even finish it. i like it in parts (v.poetic) but have never seen a more turgid book recommended for an award. (actually the author won for his work in general and not for this book in particular - and as we know the nobel has a political rather than a literary agenda) stop feeling guilty about not having read it, recycle it to charity, and use the space on your bookshelf for something you will actually enjoy!

sharanya - haven't read her first book tho' it's waiting patiently on my to-be-read shelf. maybe later we should compare notes.

glenda - yes, a writer should continue to get better over time and in the past publishers nurtured new talent much more. one example is how beryl bainbridge was supported by duckworth in the early days ... her best writing happened much later when she moved into historical fiction.

but there ae writers too who say their piece in their first novel and then are just treading water. second and later novels just don't hit the high of the first. perhaps part of it is the pressure that is put on writers to knock out the next novel much too quickly. perhaps some of it is the terror that must grip the successful writer - can i repeat this? kiran desai took 8 years to write her second novel - i admire the way she didn't let herself be rushed, and can only imagine the pressure from the publishers. she's lucky though that the first success gave her the money to finance the breathing space.

eyeris said...

I have loads of award winning books in my house. problem is, I can never get past the first 3 pages of most of them.... :D:D

KayKay said...

Allow me to be the pooper in this Booker Party celebration.

The Booker is no definitive yardstick for a book's quality anymore than the Oscars are to a films.The judging panel is selected from an elite mix of academics, authors and critics and their tastes don't always resonate with mere mortals like me who pick up a book to be entertained(shock!horror!)

But as a recognition springboard for authors whose work would otherwise languish at number 1431 in the best-seller list, it does serve an important function.

BTW, the number 1431 wasn't plucked out of thin air. That was the ranking of J.M.Coetzee's Disgrace on the best-seller list before his Booker win catapulted it to No.6.

Xeus said...

Okay, I'll have to get this now! Been reading so much about it lately.

Lotus Reads said...

I am thrilled! I was so rooting for her. My other favorite was, Hisham Mattar's "In The Country of Men. Can't wait to receive my copy of "Inheritance of Loss". I'm glad you enjoyed it so much, Sharon, I can't wait to read it!

Greenbottle said...

congrats to kiran desai ...

but about this "best" thing; grumpy old bookman says it best in his january 24 posting "
The Booker Prize and absolute nonsense"

among all the booker nominted books in 2006, personally, the one i'm most interested to read is kalooki nights by howard jacobson ... (Manchester Jews kvetch, draw cartoons and play cards in the shadow of the Holocaust.
Will Buckley: 'Likely to be the funniest book published this year.')

- but this was blown away along with the likes of peter carey david mitchell etc and never gets into the shortlist...

incidently kalooki nights was 10/1 odd to win compared with kiran desai's 20/1 during the long list period...

...and why were there so many WOMEN in the shortlist this year??

bibliobibuli said...

eyeris - that's true of some of them for sure but i find my favourite reads on the Booker shortlist/ longlist. i guess it depends also what kind of fiction you like best.

kaykay - nice blog! ... trying to work out if you're a member of my reading group ... (you mention books we've read).

you can be the party pooper, no problem. i both do and don't agree with you about the Booker being a yardstick of quality. i beleive that the longlist generally contains the best literary fiction written in a particular year, but there have been some notable exceptions. vikram seth's "a suitable boy" (identified on that other list as one of the best novels of the last 25 years) wasn't on it, and neither was simon mawar's "mendel's dwarf" which i really thought deserved it.

when you have a list with such excellent stuff on it, how do you judge "best". it's very hard. of the three shortlisted novels i've read so far i would have gone with kiran desai's for it's breadth of scope, the relevance of its theme, and the beautiful writing. i also have really enjoyed hisham matar's novel and wouldn't have been upset if it had won. (more about this soon)

so yes, i think the novels represent the best litfic ... but the final choice will depend on the idiosyncracies of the panel of judges. this year they seem to have made a conscious decision to choose new voices over established writers, and yes include a high proportion of female writers. my own personal jury is out until i've read more.

last year i feel banville deserves his win (because he was breaking new ground for fiction writers) but i didn't warm to the book and personally enjoyed the long-listed "a short history of tractors in ukrainian" best and ian mcewan's "saturday" (also long-listed) continues to live in my head.

but i love the booker because it serves as a very useful reading list for me and because as with all lists of books chosen by somebody else to agree and disagree with it is fun.

greenbottle - thanks for the link to grumpy old bookman. what a grouch! i do want to read "kalookie nights and it is for sure on my shopping list

sympozium said...

Some female DJ on Light & Easy yesterday reported that Desai had won the Booker for her first novel ever, The Inheritance of Loss. Duh. A friend always maintained that being a DJ is one job where brains aren't required (they way they prattle on about nonsense) and I agree!

bibliobibuli said...

oh my goodness! doesn't that just clinch it ...

Anonymous said...

Just because it's won a book prize doesn't mean it's good (and vice versa.) Yeah, I read books to be entertained too, one day I may write books to entertain myself. It's going to be cheaper than most other froms of entertainment, that's for sure.

KayKay said...

Kay Kay unmasked.......'tis I Krishna, dear Sharon (book club lad, NOT the computer guy).

Finally decided to tear a page off the Sharon Burns book and update my blog regularly.

bibliobibuli said...

aiyoh! i feel so stupid for not working it out! i'm so excited about you blogging 'cos i enjoy your writing so much. and arguing with you!

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