Thursday, March 31, 2011

Man Booker International Prize

The shortlist has been announced for the Man Booker International Prize. The Man Booker Prize is the annual award for British and Commonwealth writers, for best novel of the year. It usually affords a bit of fun, with huffs and fall-outs among the jury common.

This is an international version, but it covers an author's entire body of work. It's an oddity, to be sure. I'm ambivalent about prizes at the best of times - how can you compare one piece of art against another? Once you start bringing cultural differences into it, plus the need to consider an author's whole oeuvre, it becomes impossible.

And, really, on what level can you compare, for ecample, Marilynne Robinson and Philip Pullman? Their worldviews are at such odds it becomes impossible to make any sort of literary judgement without some element of spiritual sensibility entering the discussion. To put it bluntly, what atheist is going to rank Robinson higher than Pullman, and what Presbyterian will prefer Pullman to Robinson? And, in any case, should they? Supposing it was possible to define some measure of purely literary worth: would there be any point? Robinson and Pullman each have their perspectives on mythology and spirituality, and these are crucial elements of their fiction. Without it, their work would be shorn of much of its power. So pitting them against each other is simply pointless.

Other than that, the list smacks of decision by committee. A couple of Asians, some Europeans, Americans but not too many, nowhere dominating. It's a major surprise there's no Latin American, even if they are out of fashion at the moment. Personally, I would remove Anne Tyler, who is a good novelist but scarcely in the same league as the others, and insert a Latin American, presumably Garcia Marquez. Any list of greatest living authors that doesn't include the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude is pretty flawed.

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