Backing the Booker

In Twitterland, Sabina @sabaone responded to the news of the latest book to win the Booker Prize with this comment:

some of the booker winners baffle me. have read God of small things and White tiger and was not impressed by either

I loved The God of Small Things, and thought this year’s winner sounded pretty interesting when I read about it after it was shortlisted. The only Booker prize winners I have tried and failed to read are Ben Okri’s The Famished Road, which I hope to try again and enjoy, and Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi, which I am not going to try again. However, there are many years when I have not read the winner, and 2015’s A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James remains on my to read list.

But I loved Possession: A Romance by AS Byatt, (1990) which was the first novel I managed to read after my father died and which felt like a requited love affair. Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring up the Bodies (2012) by Hilary Mantel are in my all time top ten of best novels I have ever read or hope to read. I’d never have read Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries (2013) if I hadn’t heard about it because of Booker.

Add to that list these novels from my bookshelves, all favourites and all Booker Prize Winners and you’ll see that in my book (sorry) Booker gets it right a lot of the time. Pat Barker’s The Ghost Road (1995), Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient (1993), Kazuo Ishiguru’s The Remains of the Day (1989), Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda (1988), Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger (1987), Keri Hulme’s The Bone People (1985), Anita Brooker’s Hotel du Lac (1984), Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark (1983), Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981), Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s Heat and Dust (1975).

And I haven’t even started on the short listed novels I have loved too. But I think I’ll leave that for another day.
I like the way a short list for a literary prize brings my attention to books I’ve never heard of, of writers who are not on my radar. Reviews in the newspaper do the same thing. In the past I used to browse the shelves of my local library and come away with a haul of such books and that list includes Mordecai Richler another Booker shortlistee, and Anne Michaels whose Fugitive Pieces  is one of the best books I have ever read.

Maybe it doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with the judges decision. The important thing is that Booker and other literary prizes propel writers and their work to the front pages of newspapers, to the evening news broadcasts, giving reading, giving literature status and recognition in a world that all too often only sees worth in things of high financial value.

4 thoughts on “Backing the Booker

  1. I don’t usually make a point of reading Booker winners, but I’m glad there IS a Booker prize and was interested to hear this year’s winning author being interviewed, so will seek it out.

    I loved Possession too, Isobel. It made a powerful connection with me and I went on to read the Virgin in the Garden and the other three in the Frederica quartet.

    • Nice to see you Jan. I don’t make a point of reading Booker prize winners either, but most years I go to the Southbank to listen to the shortlisted writers on the eve of the prize being awarded reading from their novels and talking about them. It is always an interesting evening.
      After Possession I read everything else by AS Byatt and have continued to read everything she has published since.

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