Friday, April 13, 2007

Weighing the Best of the Best

The Man Booker International Prize was set up to recognise one writer for his or her achievement in fiction and is awarded once every two years to a living author who has published fiction either originally in English or whose work is generally available in translation in the English language.

The winner of the inaugural Man Booker International Prize in 2005 was Ismail Kadaré.

The Judges List for the 2007 prize (which is awarded every second year) was announced at Massey College in Toronto on Thursday. The nominees are:
Chinua Achebe
Margaret Atwood
John Banville
Peter Carey
Don DeLillo
Carlos Fuentes
Doris Lessing
Ian McEwan
Harry Mulisch
Alice Munro
Michael Ondaatje
Amos Oz
Philip Roth
Salman Rushdie
Michel Tournier
Several of my most deeply loved authors are on this list (Atwood, Carey, Lessing, Ondaatje, de Lillo, Achebe), along with others I greatly respect (McEwan, Banville, Rushdie, Munro), others I haven't read yet but hope to (Fuentes, Oz) ... and a couple I've never heard of (Michel Tournier and Harry Mulisch) but who no doubt thoroughly deserve to be there.

(Much more information on all the writers and their works and is available on the Man Booker International website and also on the Guardian website.)

My feelings on seeing the list are mixed ... while I'm always glad to see great writers given the recognition they deserve, I hate the crassness of this winner and loser approach. And does the world actually need this award? Those of us who truly love reading know who the greats are already ... and how do you compare one in any meaningful way with another? You can't put their works on a scale and weight them as if they were trout caught in a fishing competition!

The judges, Nadime Gordimer, Colm Toibin and Professor Elaine Showalter have their work cut out for them but I know that whatever choice they make I will be disappointed.

But if I were in their shoes (and allowing for the great gaps of ignorance in my reading) ... I'd have to choose either Carey or Atwood ...

(*pause for deep thought*)

Carey ... Carey it is ...

Postscript:

Stuart Kelly writing in the Scotsman ( found via Literary Saloon) sees the award as being one for "resting on laurels", he says:
Rather than being a truly international survey of the best in contemporary fiction writing, this shortlist positively reeks of smug complacency and petty parochialism. How widely did the judges actually read? Did they even consider Ngugi wa'Thiong'o, Bernardo Atxaga, Mo Yan, Jan Kjærstad, Viktor Pelevin, Elias Khoury? What about recent Nobel Prize winners - Orhan Pamuk, Elfriede Jelinek, Imre Kertész, José Saramago, Gao Xingjian?

Literature in translation is difficult to persuade people to try; and the International Man Booker did present a real opportunity to widen horizons and promote the underappreciated - an opportunity it singularly failed to seize this year. Worse, it seems to me that at this present historical moment, the need for us to understand other cultures, engage in dynamic dialogue with them and foster genuine international communication is more pressing than eve

26 comments:

Jen said...

What I'd love to see, is an award for best second book ...

bex said...

And the fact that different people have different ideas of defining what a good book is supposed to be like makes things complicated too.

But I suppose that having awards like these is a way of trying to get the best out of these authors because they know that winning awards offer great commercial opportunities. I actually think maybe 'honorary' awards should be given out when a great author has established a respectable oeuvre of books as that would be a more comprehensive way of judging the author based on his/her abilities without disregarding the abilities of other different authors with different styles that might not find favour with judges of book awards. [That sounds a bit awkward. =S] This might also give the work of other amazingly talented but obscure writers their due credit.

Anyway, I wanted to ask you if you think there is a certain criterion that judges look into when trying to determine which book is the "best"? And do you think there are any authors who are aware of it and therefore, try to write in such a way that would appeal to the judges [I've often heard of people talking about how J K Rowling has earned her success by writing books that appeal to the "frailty of human nature" for instance] and hence, boost sales figures?

bibliobibuli said...

jen, bex - the award is not for a single book but overall output!

bex - quality is quality is quality. all these writers do have very different styles but they have more than style (which is a surface thing) - they have the ability to move the reader to live inside their head and to change the reader's inner landscape. that is where judgment of "the best" has to come from. i know that the authors i've listed as my favourites live inside me. they didn't just entertain me at the time of reading - they spoke to me and became my friends.

there are of course other writers (not on this list) who have achieved that ... and hopefully many more ahead of me that will.

if my saying this just draws a blank look from any of you ... let me just say you are missing out on what makes reading the most important and pleasurable activity and maybe you need to challenge yourself!

i much prefer your idea of honourary awards, bex, and instead of putting these authors through the booker dog and pony show would give it to them ... probably all of them

Dean said...

I'd probably go for Oz. He's vastly underrated, IMHO.

dreamer idiot said...

I'm rooting for DeLillo, after reading White Noise, and for the contemporary socio-political magnitude of his works.

Too bad I haven't read many authors on the list, though I have been meaning too.

Peter Carey is a good bet, though I think they might give it to Atwood or Lessing.

Irman said...

Harry Mulisch should win.

bex said...

Sorry, I suppose I was generalising literary awards a little! Ah well, just replace "books" with "authors" I guess!

And I get what you mean! :)

Chet said...

If it's for overall output, then certainly Margaret Atwood stands a good chance.

Sharanya Manivannan said...

Is this like the "Booker of Bookers"?

Why so many Bookers? This one, the annual one, the one I mentioned above (awarded every 25 years or something, yes? Midnight's Children won one), the Asian one.

Runs the risk of brand dilution, doesn't it?

Kenny Mah said...

It's a nice recognition alright, but I believe at this point, it's more marketing than anything else. (Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.)

But like Sharanya said, it runs the risk of brand dilution --- I've lost count of the number of awards and winners and nominees...

sympozium said...

Grave sin of omission - where's Kazuo Ishiguro??

sympozium said...

And Jackie Collins??? :-) Come on, the woman wrote The Stud AND The Bitch! Two of the best book titles ever?

bibliobibuli said...

dean, dreamer idiot, irman ... place your bets!

chet - atwood must be a strong (if not the strongest) contender in terms of not only size of output but the range she covers - literary fiction, crime, speculative fiction, short stories, criticism, essays ...

which symp - ishi should be a contender, right? i love "artist of the floating world" remains of the day" and "never let me go". but i would say he's written a couple of clunkers too and he can only create those emotionally constipated characters. do you honestly think he has enough colours to his palette??

jackie collins??????????????

kenny - i think the commercial aspect of this award is the sponsor (man plc) getting its name out yet again

sharanya - there are now four man booker prizes - the annual one, the international one, the asian one and apparently a new arabic one for the middle east!

bex - glad!

Lotus Reads said...

I was sooo excited to see three Canadians on this list, yeay! :)

sympozium said...

Agree with you Ishiguro's best were Artist, Remains and Never Let Me Go...yes, are three good books sufficient...?
But Michael Ondatdje? English Patient was not that great...
And Achebe had only one book of note that I know of...
Jackie - to bring glamour to the list lah... ;-))))

bibliobibuli said...

yes, canada is doing well, lotus. wonder if it's any coincidence that the announcement was made there?

sympozium - we could of course argue all day about the greats and not so greats. achebe ... yes "things fall apart" is by far the best of the three novels i've read ...

ondaatje? i very much liked "the english patient" but the plot is v. messy and he doesn't make the best of his material (the film is much better at exploiting the main plot). imho "anil's ghost " is the better novel. haven't read the rest. but he has also written a great deal of v. good poetry

but none of these guys (again imho 'cos who can be dogmatic about it) come close to atwood or carey or lessing for size and strength of output

but i guess the organizers of the prize would be happy to see us thusly arguing

Chet said...

According to Eric Forbes, Harry Mulisch is a hot favourite to win the 2007 Man Booker International Prize.

bibliobibuli said...

yeah but eric offers no evidence at all for saying so, so i guess we're all just backing different horses

has anyone here read anything by muslisch??

Chet said...

Mine's a Canadian thoroughbred.

Anonymous said...

I think Eric Forbes has a very good reason why the prize should go to Harry Mulisch. Mulisch's books are all written in Dutch and he deserves a wider readership through more translations.

bibliobibuli said...

yes, and that's a good thing to come out of this competition

but deserving a wider readership is one thing, deserving this prize is another. what in YOUR opinion qualifies him, anon?

Anonymous said...

Here's what I think, Sharon. Harry Mulisch grapples with lots of complicated entanglements, especially those of a moral nature; there is much breadth and depth to his novelistic landscapes. He is provocative in his themes. He is also, most importantly I believe, an excellent teller of tales.

bibliobibuli said...

then i do have to read him ... many thanks for the prod!

bibliobibuli said...

anon - one more thing, could you recommend the best place to start with mulisch's books??

Anonymous said...

The best book to start exploring the world of Harry Mulisch is The Discovery of Heaven (1996), a novel first published in Dutch, De ontdekking van de hemel, in 1992. The translator is Paul Vincent. Many consider this his best book. The editing could be better. It is a heavyweight tome that tackles the big issues, but there is much to enjoy: irony, humour and religion. Also made into a film in 2001, directed by Jeroen Krabbé and starring Stephen Fry.

bibliobibuli said...

very many thanks!