2007

May 17, 2013 by  
Filed under Booker Prize Project

A reader’s response to the GG report from the 2006 installment:

I’ve walked around town, gone to a movie, started reading a book, all the while with your report on my mind, especially Kim’s expose. I can only begin to tell you how depressed I felt when I read that “heavily experimental” work was just wiped off the table, indeed, not even on the table. Admittedly some of this work is way out there, some narcissistic, some just plain silly; however, there is work that genuinely tries to do it from another angle, another vantage point. I know some of these writers and I know how hard they work. I know that they are committed to their vision of writerly practice. I know that this work is backgrounded in solid research and reading. I know that to be completely wiped off the table in a oneday selection where what garners no controversy is deemed an eligible entry is horribly wrong.

Let me digress a bit… Just before the end of WWII the major thrust of painting headed into abstraction. My contention concerning abstraction is that the horrors of the war, the holocaust, Hiroshima, the war itself in its unconscious ramifications could not be depicted by the limitations of Group of Seven-type painting; yes, the best of it goes beyond depiction but it cannot contain in any shape or form what abstraction can do to render visible an event or feeling itself.

I’m going to digress a bit further… it will come together, I can assure you… I attended the readings for the Griffin, and in the foyer beforehand I spoke with one of the prize’s “administrators” who was betting on Jan Zwicky. Not knowing her work, I didn’t say anything but was interested to hear her out along with the other Canadians. Okay, well crafted, but images and metaphors of love as “fire” and “forge”? Nineteenth century metaphors in this now… I don’t think so. Babstock, on the other hand, delivered new words and new metaphors and new images to express this now. This is required if language in poetry is to signal anything beyond the page. And he won!!!

This ties up, for me, where the abstractionists are the experimentalists in writing. You bet there are some failed works, but there are also some great works… and not just NY painting but right here in this country despite the grumbling of some old-fashionistas, just as there are some really great and wonderful reads in the avant garde of Canadian writing. To see these works disregarded at the GG table is so arierre garde and subject to criteria that has nothing to do with literature… the get down and grapple with it reading that is the hallmark of some of the greats of the twentieth century is not just depressing but truly alarming. Yes, the GG’s feel like the country cousin trying to hold up their end of the conversation… it’s stuttering.

 

I am coming to the end of this project, finally. With the 2007 report I will start posting my suggestions, observations and conclusions, beginning with juries.

Jean’s guide for jury members:

A much-experienced juror suggests that the following are requirements for a competent jury member:

  • The ability to read a large number of books in a limited period of time. This is something that many (not all) academics are trained to do, and that some jury members find totally overwhelming.
  • Good literary judgment.
  • The ability to articulate ideas, put forward choices, argue for them in a reasonable unbelligerent way, and abide by the jury consensus in a civil manner.
  • Moral integrity in matters of conflict of interest and confidentiality.

That seems to me like a pretty good list of qualities. And perhaps the most important qualities. I would add a few other suggestions.

When you have been asked to sit on a jury here are some questions to ask yourself, and the administrating body.

Are you getting paid? Being on a jury can be an enormous amount of work.

Did your very best friend publish a book this year? Don’t agree to be on a jury if your spouse has a book that would qualify for the prize. Don’t even think about it. Same applies for lovers, children and your best friends.

Find out who the other jurors are, or might be, before committing. I believe most organizing bodies really do their best to put together good working groups but the publishing community in Canada is relatively small and word does get around. Are you the token purple person on a jury with four green people? That may be just fine, but it’s best to know what you are getting into.

Why are you being asked to sit on this particular jury?

Do you have enough time to do the job? Can your life accommodate the task and has the organizing body given enough time?

Once you have agreed to be on a jury, keep the following in mind:

Find out the jury process. Most jurors say the prizes that work the best follow something like the following:

-jurors submit a list, usually 10

-once the organizing body has all lists submitted, they are circulated to all jurors (in other words, no juror gets to see the others’ lists until all lists are submitted)

-jurors meet, by phone or in person, to discuss the lists and produce one shorter list. Depending on the number of jurors the shortened list can be 10 to 20 books. This process can also be done in two or more stages to accommodate more than one shipment of books. With larger prizes the jury may start to meet and discuss (in person but more frequently by phone or email) many months before a long list is shaped.

-jurors take a couple of weeks to review the new list, reread material

-another discussion occurs to attempt to create a short list, usually 3 to 6 depending on the prize

-some prizes provide for several conference calls to allow for lots of discussion and review

-a final meeting, or series of meetings, determines the final winner.

In my discussions with jury members those prizes for which the jury meets only once and the whole process is supposed to take place in one stage are often the decisions which the jurors are least happy with—they have felt rushed, or bamboozled. Having a break to reflect is important. If you are asked to participate as a juror in a process that is not staged, ask if more than one meeting is possible. At the current time the GG juries meet on one day and are expected to do the whole process in one go. The Giller jury is a staged process, as are the Griffin, Booker and IMPAC.

Another jury system is mail in or numerical, where jury members do not meet and discuss and may not even know who are the other jury members. Some people find this system cleaner—you read the books, make your decisions and submit your list. No fuss and no confrontation. Others argue that lack of discussion results in a prize of little if any authority.

Sometimes this system is used because it is less onerous to administer and usually less expensive. But sometimes this system is used because the administrating body doesn’t trust jurors and assumes that if the jury meets, one juror will get an unfair advantage. If the administrators don’t trust you to discuss the books, why are you on the jury?

Make yourself familiar with the rules of the prize. If they aren’t adhered to, consider filing an objection. For example, if rules stipulate that all jurors will supply a short-list of 10 books 3 weeks prior to the first discussion and one of the jurors does not comply, file an objection. If the list does not appear that juror should be asked to withdraw. I’m not suggesting that jurors should be fusspots about rules, but my discussions with jurors who have had a bad experience—which often result in winning books that the juror is embarrassed to appear to have supported—indicate that it is often because rules haven’t been followed, giving one or more juror an unfair advantage.

Ask if there is an entry fee for the prize. This shouldn’t affect your decision, but it might have some influence on what gets submitted. For example, there is a fee to publishers to enter a book in the BC Book Prizes. A small publisher might not submit a lot of books because of cost. What this means as a juror on this sort of prize is that you should familiarize yourself with books that would qualify in case something of merit has not been submitted. As a juror, you can call that book in. A juror can do this on most prizes (if the book qualifies, except for the GG) but it has extra importance for prizes that charge an entry fee.

Another time it is important to familiarize yourself with qualifying books is when the prize limits the numbers of books that can be submitted, as is the case with the Giller and the Booker. That is also the reason lists of submitted books for those prizes are confidential (to protect the publishers and to lessen anger of writers). The press release for the 2009 Booker long list said the jury had called in 11 books. I contacted the Booker administration office and the confidential rule would not allow them to tell me which 11 books, but they were able to tell me that 1 of those books did make it to the long list. So, somewhere there is a publisher with a novel on the Booker longlist that she didn’t think had a chance. Just goes to show.

Ask whether there are prereaders for the prize. If so, who are they? It is important that each submitted work is read by at least two prereaders; otherwise the risk is high of having experimental work tossed at this stage. Prereaders should be as qualified as jurors and they should always err on the side of generosity.

Strategy

When putting together the short-list, concentrate on literary merit and ignore issues of gender, ethnicity, geography, age, body of work or past wrongs (either by the writer to you, or by previous juries to the author).

Pick your battles. You can’t champion all of your picks.

Be cautious about putting your first pick at the top of your list—it’s a giveaway to other jurors. Put your first pick lower, then bring it up later. If you are lucky and are on a good jury this won’t matter. It’s preemptive strategy.

In an article in the Globe and Mail, book review editor Sandra Martin points to a trend with recent juries as “star makers.” That means favouring books because they are by new writers and shunning books by Old White Guys or members of the perceived establishment. The task of the jury is to follow the rules of the prize, and in most cases that means identifying the “best” book regardless of the gender, age, and point in career or ethnicity of the author. Stick to the task at hand.

Be prepared for criticism. If you collude in a bad decision, particularly on the bigger prizes, you will be criticized, as well you should be.

Jury: The director of the London School of Economics, Howard Davies, acted as chair. The other jurors were poet Wendy Cope, journalist and novelist Giles Foden, biographer Ruth Scurr and actor Imogen Stubbs.

Nicola Barker—Darkmans

Guest report from Sharon Bakar, Kuala Lumpur:

Despite being 838 pages long Darkmans never felt a long or arduous read, maybe because I was enjoying the joyfully meandering narration so much.

To talk about the plot of the novel is almost beside the point. Yes, there are story threads that run through, but they seem almost incidental, and not all are gathered neatly together at the end leaving the reader still caught in the mystery of who and how these folks in a modern Kent town become possessed (it seems) by characters from the past. When I was a kid I loved time-slip novels like Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, and Phillipa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden, and always squeeze my eyes up tight to try to see a place as it was hundred of years ago, so this aspect of the novel greatly appealed to me.

The action doesn’t (for the most part) move out of a tiny geographical area, the town of Ashford in Kent. When I’ve mentioned this to British friends over the past week or two, I’ve seen their eyes boggle in disbelief that anyone would want to set a novel there.

It’s a nowhere sort of place, a transportation hub, serving the Eurostar service to continental Europe and torn up by roads. Whatever charm and history it had in the past has become pretty much obliterated in the interest of “development”. But Ashford, with its bypasses and Tesco’s and substandard modern housing estates, is arguably the main character of the book, and the past comes back to haunt … with a vengeance.

There’s a relatively small human cast for a book this size, the interrelationships between those individuals are thoroughly explored.

Beede and Kane are a father and son with apartments in the same house while remaining essentially estranged from each other. Beede works in the hospital laundry and is fascinated by the past. Kane deals in prescription drugs, and is haunted by the attempted suicide of his mother many years before.

Then there’s Kane’s larger than life ex-girlfriend, Kelly Broad, (a girl of the sort we would have called, not very kindly, “a right little scrubber” in my day); Gaffar, a Kurdish refugee who comes to work for Kane and is terrified (to the point of fainting!) of salad leaves; Elen, Beede’s chiropodist (who may or may not be a witch); Isadore, her husband, barely clinging to sanity at times; their son, Fleet, building a model of a cathedral from matchsticks. And several others including, the builder from hell, an art forger, and an incontinent spaniel with paralysed back legs.

Oh yes, and there’s also a shadowy character from the past, a sort of lord of misrule, who appears to be playing some rather nasty practical jokes on the characters.

There’s an awful lot of talk but in the sharp dialogue and in the asides of the completely garrulous narrator. (I kept thinking that it would be fun to see the novel written as a hypertext novel – it would be a fraction of its length without the detours!)

I came away from the book with more questions than answers. But I came away satisfied and I came away wanting more. (And disagreeing vehemently with Chairman of the Booker Prize committee, Howard Davies’ snippy comment about how it could have been more tightly edited … did he get what Barker was trying to do?).

I can’t think of another novel that manages to be both brilliantly comic and hauntingly sinister at the same time. Darkmans has its finger firmly on the (British) social pulse, while also being startlingly innovative in form and style.

Here are the comments from the Booker chair that appeared in The Guardian, mentioned above:

Nicola Barker’s Darkmans, one judge’s favourite, was the subject of much comment. There can’t be very many other people on the planet who have read this long, dense novel as many times as us. While Barker’s choice of subject matter and setting were thought to be original, indeed urgently necessary, the general impression was that not enough thought had been given to the reader. It seemed a book written for the author, whose evident zeal for language could only take one so far. But some stylistic adoptions from Pop Art and computer games added to a novel which, with much more disciplined handling, could have been a Middlemarch for our times. A number of judges had difficulty with italic interjections, broken out of the main text, as a way of presenting a character’s thoughts.

Not enough thought given to the reader.” What? It seems he is saying that books that make you pay attention, pay really close attention, aren’t good. What nonsense. I don’t recall ever reading a book where I was so immersed in the reading but also so aware of the words on the page. The world of Ashford is so immediate. People are fixated by text messages, shop on abebooks and listen to Puff Daddy and Sting. This is not the soft, fuzzy Britain of PBS specials. Characters discuss the trivia of the Internet, the manipulative nature and unreliability of the tabloid press and the consumerism inherent in the Nike brand. But the novel is so richly concerned with language and linguistics:

I mean where do words come from anyway? What is it that gives a word its longevity, its staying power? Who legitimizes it? Why? And how? I’m seriously thinking about researching further into this whole area now, creating some kind of spontaneous academic thesis around it. Bringing it all right up to date, too, via patois—my speciality—musical and urban street-slang, African prison languages…Maybe even researching another book.

On her publisher’s website Barker explains that Darkmans is a book “about how history isn’t just something that happened in the past, but a juggernaut with faulty brakes which is intent on mowing you down.”

This novel mowed me down. I will search out Barker’s other books.

Ian McEwan–On Chesil Beach VPL

Jean’s Book Club

Charlie made a comment on facebook that let us know he was not enjoying the novel. At our Booker club meeting he said it improved once the Main Event took place. Hmm, I don’t think I’ll tell you about the actual event. For anyone who decides to read the novel, it would ruin the careful construction of the narrative. It’s a pattern in some of McEwan’s novels to build the story around a very minor event that becomes life changing. But Charlie said The Event made him interested in the characters, where he had not been before.

I will share with you part of the blurb from the dust jacket:

It is July 1962. Edward and Florence, young innocents married that morning, arrive at a hotel on the Dorset coast. At dinner in their rooms they struggle to suppress their private fears of the wedding night to come…

The narration is not first person. Though we get most of the story from Edward, the narration does slip in and out of both their heads. Both characters have been affected by their childhoods, and both have difficulty talking about their feelings, or their fears. So they marry, not knowing much about each other. As described by McEwan, their inability to talk to each other is painful

Edward’s mother was brain-damaged when he was young. The father, a teacher, takes over the housekeeping and childcare while also holding down a job. The mother vacantly wanders the house, dabbling with various projects. GB particularly liked the descriptions of Edward’s childhood, his interest in school and history.

Florence’s mother is emotionally absent. She spends a lot of time with her father. The Booker club members were not in agreement about the father/daughter relationship. Some pointed to sections that seemed to indicate that her father had sexually abused Florence. Others were not convinced the text was making this suggestion. The former would make the plot rather Freudian and formulaic—sexual abuse by a father of a daughter makes the mature woman sexually frigid.

We wondered if the novel really captured the early 60s. Was it as repressed sexually as McEwan suggests? Is the novel a nostalgic approach to the time? It is certainly a very focused look at two lives during a short period of time, and how those lives are affected by parental relationships, class structure, generational differences, sexual repression (and its consequences) and social climbing

But we also discussed whether the ideas have been historized, as moments in history that result in liberation are often idealized. Is McEwan using a formula, ignoring that individual problems can’t be reduced to a formula?

Deb and GB both said the novel reminded them of Hardy, or to be more precise, McEwan trying to be Hardy.

Dennis Bolen insisted that we talk about the writing and language. Dennis is new to the group so he wasn’t aware that we always do that at some point, though more often than not we get really sidetracked by other things before we get there. Dennis argued that in structure the book is not a novel, more a novella or an over-blown short story. It’s like Daisy Miller, he argued—a straight arrow narration with no turns. Novels have turns.

Pauline pointed to the excessive use of adjectives, often useless adjectives:

As he leaned in she felt the scent of his hair cream wrap itself around her face. His papery skin had a jaundiced gleam in the low light, his eyes were reduced by thick lenses to narrow black slits.

We talked about the irony of the narration, bathos and pathos, and in the end we were a bunch of fence sitters. It’s not a book that can be easily dismissed but it is not a shining star, either. Pauline gave it a “pass” when we did our rating, explaining that she was undecided. Dennis, 6. Charlie 6.75. Deb, 5. Judith 5.5. Aaron 6. GB, 4 (no surprise there). Renee, 6. Jean, 6.

George kept saying, “I wish Kim were here.” Kim is our in-house British specialist.

Mohsin Hamid—The Reluctant Fundamentalist VPL

The novel has a curious structure. Changez, a Pakistani who has become very successful in New York City, has returned to live a very different life in his native city of Lahore. In a café in Lahore Changez meets an American stranger and starts a conversation, eventually telling the American the story of his life, his disenchantment with the USA, why he turned his back on his job, and his heartbreaking relationship with an American girl. It’s first person narration. Well, monologue. Changez talking to the American, always addressing him as “you.”

Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard: I am a lover of America. I noticed that you were looking for something; more than looking, in fact you seemed to be on a mission, and since I am both a native of this city and a speaker of your language, I thought I might offer you my services.

This technique has several effects. The tone must be totally conversational to be persuasive. Rather than have a space to indicate that the American has said something, Changez repeats everything the American says. It gets irritating, and assumes that the reader isn’t smart enough to hear the other side of the very lop-sided conversation (the American says very little).

In part the novel is a scathing assessment of American attitude; “his tone—with, if you will forgive me, its typically American undercurrent of condescension.”

While Changez is in New York the World Trade towers are attacked. He grins, “I was caught up in the symbolism of it all, the fact that someone had so visibly brought America to her knees.”

He watches how America responds, post-911—“As a society, you were unwilling to reflect upon the shared pain that united you with those who attacked you. You retreated into myths of your own difference, assumptions of your own superiority. And you acted out these beliefs on the stage of the world, so that the entire planet was rocked by the repercussions of your tantrums.”

He is articulate at expressing the contrast with his own country, and its past:

Four thousand years ago, we, the people of the Indus River basin, had cities that were laid out on grids and boasted underground sewers, while the ancestors of those who would invade and colonize America were illiterate barbarians. Now our cities were largely unplanned, unsanitary affairs, and America had universities with individual endowments greater than our national budget for education. To be reminded of this vast disparity was, for me, to be ashamed.

The novel is gutsy, though sometimes thin. Here are two worthwhile reviews:

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/22/books/review/Olsson.t.ht_r=1&scp=1&sq=%22the%20reluctant%20fundamentalist%22&st=cse

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/mar/03/featuresreviews.guardianreview20

This novel is the second from Hamid.

Indra Sinha—Animal’s People VPL

On December 3, 1984 one of the biggest industrial accidents of our times happened in Bhopal, India. “A runaway reaction in a tank containing poisonous methyl isocyanate caused the pressure relief system to vent large amounts to the atmosphere. The factory was owned by Union Carbide. The chemicals that spewed into the air killed thousands and for decades to come made the local residents ill, crippled and riddled with disease. Nothing was done. No clean up. No compensation.” This is a real event on which Sinha constructs his novel.

The narrator is Animal. He was born That Night, and was abandoned by his parents, or they died. He was raised by nuns. While still a child his spine twists, forcing him to walk on all fours with his ass in the air. He is teased by the other children, and the taunting name of Animal sticks and that is how he has been known and how he identifies himself. He is 19 when he speaks his story into a tape machine left behind by one of the many journalists who show up on a regular basis to report on the slum community to the international world, who continue to stand back and do nothing. Animal is a photo op for these journalists.

For a time Animal makes his way by living on the streets, scamming people and scrounging for food. Then he is taken under the wing of Zafar, the local hero who fights the company and tries to get justice in the courts. Zafar is beloved by the people of the slum, like a cult figure or Christ figure.

It sounds pretty grim, and it is but Sinha does not dwell on the sadness or sentimentalize the situation. The novel is remarkably full of life and the ribald humour of the perpetually horny Animal. He is in love with the unattainable Nisha, daughter of the widowed (from That Night) singer who lives across the street from Zafar. He both loves and lusts, as he yanks and whacks.

Then a young American doctor, Elli Barber, arrives and opens a free clinic to treat the victims of That Night. Zafar is suspicious that Elli is working for the company, assembling data to show that the illnesses are from water contamination, or poor hygiene—anything to get the company off the hook of an impending court case, decades after the event. He tells the people to boycott the clinic and they comply, despite their desperate need for medicines and treatment. Animal hopes Elli can heal his back so that he can stand tall, and win the love of Nisha.

There is such strength and skill to Sinha’s rendering of this community that the inhabitants aren’t portrayed as victims. They are frustrated, yes. But full of life, having complex relationships despite the lack of hope.

There are a number of things worth noting in this complex novel, if only to compare it to other Booker short-listed novels. One is the portrayal of 911. Animal responds to the televised broadcast:

The big thing that happened in Amrika, when it I saw it on the tele do you know what I did? I clapped? I thought, fantastic! This plane comes out of nowhere, flies badoom! Into this building. Pow! Blam! Flowers of flame!

Animal thinks it is a hoax, a clip from a movie. “Stuff like that doesn’t happen in real life. Not in Amrika anyway.” The reader knows how the USA responded to the 911 event and it stands in stark contrast to the treatment of the people of this Indian slum. Americans are not thought well of in this community:

If you collected every swear word in every language, every filthy term of abuse, melted them together to make one word so hateful, so utterly revolting, so devoid of goodness that its mere utterance would create horror and loathing and hatred, that word would be…

Amrikan?

I laboured through this novel, and I’m not sure why. Through the voice of Animal you get inside his head, and right into the language. This novel is the most exciting for use, playfulness and inventiveness with language since Darkman’s. Perhaps the language slows the reading, forcing you to take it slowly. It is both scorching and funny, but it would not have made a popular winner for the Booker, though it did win the Commonwealth Best Book Prize. Indra Sinha has published Sanskit translations and other non-fiction books. This is his second novel. He remains a passionate advocate about the injustice of the events after the Bhopal and the lack of accountability for the companies and its employees.

Lloyd Jones—Mister Pip VPL

Another novel using the device of a naïve, young first person narrator. This time it is Matilda, a 12-year old native black girl on the island of Papua New Guinea during the uprising in the 1990s and the time of Francis Ona. In my head the narrator was always a boy, and I was surprised each time I was reminded she is a girl, at least for the first hundred pages. Apparently Jones was a journalist in the area during this civil war. I was not persuaded that he knows much about being an aboriginal teenaged girl, though that might not be intrinsic to the book.

The political uprising results in the whites, there mostly to run the mine, leaving the small island “all but forgotten, where the most unspeakable things happened without once raising the ire of the outside world.” Only one white remains, the peculiar Mr. Watts who pulls his black (mad?) wife through the community on a wagon, wearing a red clown nose. “Everyone called him Pop Eye,” begins the novel. The children now have no teacher and Mr. Watts decides to run the school house, though he has no training and few apparent skills for the job. He reads Great Expectations to the students and they become immersed in the 19th century world of Pip. It provides an escape from the horrors of their own world. Yes, the novel is very much about the power of the imagination and the power of stories.

The renegades decide there is a real Mr. Pip who is a risk. The community will not serve up Mr. Pip so the soldiers sack their houses and burn all the contents. There are complicated plot devices involving: issues of trust; community; honour; mother/daughter relationships; nationalism; responsibility; how political positions trap people in situations; native versus white values and religion; basic survival and what motivates the will to live, or the power to surrender to death in favour of beliefs.

Later in the novel violence takes over but we are told that despite the destruction of the natives’ home and life as they have known it, they still have their stories. “Stories have a job to do.” “They have to teach you something.” The tone can be preachy, pushing the redemptive power of art. In ways it reminded me of Life of Pi, a rather holier-than-thou knowledge that will be spelled out to the humble reader, though a much better-written novel.

Jones was an established writer in New Zealand but this novel gave him an international reputation by appearing on the Booker short list. Jones won the Commonwealth Writers prize for his geographical region and also for Overall Best Book. A film staring Hugh Laurie is due for release in 2012.

Anne Enright—The Gathering WINNER

Category: the long-suffering and tortured Irish.

Veronica Hegarty is one of twelve children. Maureen, her mother, had 12 live births and 7 miscarriages. Veronica is driven to tell the multi-generational story of her dysfunctional family because of the suicide of her closest brother, Liam; only 10 months separate their births. There are too many Hegarty children for many of the still-living 9 to come into focus in a 260-page novel. They get brief labels—Ernest, a priest in Peru, Mossie the psycho, Bea the drifting sister and so on.

Veronica writes that the root of all the pain and trouble, including Liam’s suicide, began the day her grandmother Ada Merriman met her grandfather Charlie Spillane, and his friend Lamb Nugent. Through the grief and mourning of the family, Veronica reveals that she caught Nugent sexually involved with Liam when Liam was 8 and she was 9. She never told anyone.

I am saying that, the year you sent us away, your dead son was interfered with, when you were not there to comfort or protect him, and that interference was enough to send him on a path that ends in the box downstairs.

Part of Veronica’s crises after Liam’s death includes her troubled marriage with Tom:

It was the children that did for us, at least for a while. I think he stopped hating me after I left work. Of course, Tom would say he never hated me, that he loved me all along. But I know hating when I see it. I know it, because there is a part of me that wants to be hated, too.

There must be.

And anger with her family and her fading mother who can’t be bothered to remember the names of her children:

Family sins and family wounds, the endless pricking of something that we find hard to name. None of it important, just the usual, You ruined my life, or, What about me? Because with the Hegarthys a declaration of unhappiness is always a declaration of blame.

I’m getting weary of novels about people indulgent of their own lives. But the Irish seem to wallow in it, generational pain and angst where every choice is potentially fatal. This novel pulls toward resolution and life when at the funeral, a past mistress of Liam shows up with a three-year old son. Liam’s son that no one knew existed. It’s just too pat.

After winning the Booker this novel sold 300,000 in the USA alone. Thanks, Oprah, for training such readers.

Giles Foden From The Guardian

Everyone expected arguments, and we had them, but with dignity (my fellow judges were Howard Davies, Wendy Cope, Ruth Scurr and Imogen Stubbs). We never fell out. In fact, we are meeting up this autumn for a drink. Some had their favourites that others couldn’t stand; others tried to hold up yardsticks against which all books might be measured. The favourite supporters made persuasive cases for AN Wilson and Nicola Barker, but only Barker got through to the shortlist, despite an unfortunate error in transmission – not the judges’ fault – which suggested Wilson had. The longlist is where the real argy-bargy takes place.

Once an author is on the shortlist anything can happen. In our case we arrived at a situation in which every judge had mutually exclusive first and last choices. Luckily, in Howard Davies we had a competent chairman, who helped us mathematically towards a choice of winner with which everyone was happy. PS: note to publishers, try not to write call-in letters with spelling mistakes, or one that make foolish claims. Some of these letters looked as if they were written in haste. Then again, so did some of the novels submitted.

So the winning novel was very much a compromise win. The novel got many good reviews but readers didn’t like it. Check Amazon. Also note that the “competent chair” devised a mathematical system when needed.

 

 

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Jean Baird is the co-editor, with George Bowering, of The Heart Does Break: Canadian Writers on Grief and Mourning (Random House, 2009), and the author of The Booker Project.