Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Julian Barnes on the Booker Prize

Julian Barnes, referring to the decision to open the Booker Prize to American (and other non-Commonwealth English speaking) authors:

"The [women's prize for fiction] is rightly only open to women but it's [now] open to Americans and Americans have won it for the past five times," said Barnes. "There's a certain cultural cringe in this country to the big American books and I fear that British writers will win [the prize] much less often. And often the Booker gives a platform to young writers and encourages them, and that, I think, is much less likely to happen."
This is pure sophistry. He's taken two specific examples and conflated them to make it seem as though the outcome of the first will inevitably be replicated in the second. It is true that the Orange Prize has been won by a succession of American authors since they were made eligible for the prize. The reason for that is probably that they are the best writers. But Barnes then makes a questionable declaration, that the Booker has a reputation for giving a platform to younger writers (last night's winner was undoubtedly young, but is that necessarily representative?) and then blithely suggests, on the basis of no evidence at all, that now "this is much less likely to happen."

What the wise decision to extend the Booker's remit will do, of course, is to ensure that slight and ephemeral works such as, to take an example at random, Julian Barnes's A Sense of an Ending, will not win the prize in future. Which may perhaps be closer to Mr Barnes's true objection...

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