Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Barry for Costa

Irish novelist Sebastian Barry takes this year's Costa Prize for The Secret Scripture ... despite most of the judges feeling that the book was deeply flawed and almost none of them liking the ending!

What redeemed it? According to Matthew Parris, chair of the final judges:
Sebastian Barry has created one of the great narrative voices in contemporary fiction in The Secret Scripture. It is a book of great brilliance, powerfully and beautifully written.
The novel tells the story of Roseanne McNulty, a very old woman living in a mental institution and secretly writing her memoirs in an attempt to reclaim her past. Her narrative is interwoven with that of her psychiatrist, Dr Grene, whose:
...own sense of self becomes entangled with the fate of this mysterious old lady.
The novel was earlier shortlisted for the Booker prize.

Postscript :
All literature is flawed, everything creative is by its nature flawed ...

says Lisa Jewell, one of the Costa judges, in The Telegraph, explaining that Barry's book :
... was, quite simply, magic.
In the same paper, Robert Colville asks why the judges are so grudging in their praise, but seems to rather welcome their honesty!

Postscript 2 :

As James Delingpole so rightly points out in The Telegraph:
And their shining example of the novel that isn't flawed is what exactly? All novels are flawed, that's the whole point. Dickens goes on a bit as – my, and how! – does George Eliot; War and Peace ends with 100 pages of rambling, esoteric spiritual drivel; Proust badly needs pruning; Dan Brown and Jeffrey Archer aren't great prose stylists. ... As a novelist it's the first – and most depressing – thing you learn about your trade: that between the sweeping ambition of your conception and the reality of your execution there will always be a terrifyingly large gulf. All novels, even the greatest ones, are failures. It's just that most readers are too polite to notice.


Anonymous said...

"All novels, even the greatest ones, are failures. It's just that most readers are too polite to notice."

I'd say "almost" all novels. There's YF's book, which is kind of scary in the way in which it was written, and there's Barrie's "Peter Pan", and of course Twain's "Tom Sawyer". There's also Amy Tan's "Joy Luck Club" and Jane Smiley's "A Thousand Acres". Also Pratchett's early work.

Dickens _does_ go on a bit, and as such is a bit of a tough read, but it's not really THAT bad. Also there are books that are deliberately long and convoluted and sort of fun to read if just for the strange words (like Ulysses) and books like HHGTTG, which you can just sort of pick up in the middle and read.

Anonymous said...

I don't think "failures" here means "not good enough." The comment explicitly goes on to name examples of the *great* novels that are flawed in some way (according to some). So no, I don't think James Delingpole would agree that "almost" all novels are failures -- he really does mean that ALL great art is flawed, and that the flaws -- the mess, the overstretched ambition -- are often what make it great. I don't think he's saying that Dickens is "that bad" at all! He's saying quite the opposite thing: that Dickens is brilliant, but, as all brilliance must be, flawed.

The Joy Luck Club a perfect novel? Er, I think I better keep my thoughts on that to myself :-) .

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

So you think all brilliance is flawed, and if it's not flawed it's not brilliant? interesting opinion. I believe that's what they thought in Persia as well, I remember hearing they purposely made mistakes when they were weaving carpets because otherwise it would have been perfect (and thus not brilliant :) )

Anonymous said...

I think -- as does the author of that article -- that the greatest novels are flawed because of their scale and ambition and, most of all, the risks they take (I don't mean only political risks, but intellectual risks, artistic risks), which are all exactly the factors that make them great.

-- Preeta