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The Booker Prize

9 October 06 words: James Walker
The Champions League of the literary world, crowning the best novel of the year from writers of the commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland

The Man Booker prize is like the Champions League of the literary world, crowning the best novel of the year from writers of the commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland. The qualifying round consists of 112 entries of which 95 are submitted by publishers and the remaining 17 selected by the panel of judges. From here a long list of 19 are drawn up for the group qualifying stage before a shortlist of six make it to the knockout stage. The reward for the winner is a cheque for £50,000 and a guaranteed increase in sales, as well as the possibility of a guest appearance on Richard and Judy.

To ensure impartiality the judging panel is changed yearly, thereby avoiding the potential of one particular style/genre/author dominating. The judges vary in social background and identity so that an equal balance in tastes and attitudes can be achieved and are drawn from literary critics, academics, editors, novelists and various established and respected figures. The judges are locked in a small cupboard and go without sleep for a month and are rewarded for each book they consume with one glass of tap water. They are told that they are banned from talking to administrators or sponsors so that they can achieve independent reviews of each book but this is just a clever ploy to disguise the masochistic tendencies of the Booker organisers - a nasty bunch who make the Illuminati look like The Waltons.
The Booker Prize was founded in 1968 when Jonathan Cape publisher Tom Maschler, inspired by the French Prix Goncourt, persuaded the Booker Brothers to plough some of the profit from their Authors’ Division into a literary prize. Booker, to give you an idea of their wealth, is currently the largest cash and carry company in the UK with an annual turnover of £3.5 billion and recently merged with Iceland PLC. Frozen fish fingers and literary darlings, the perfect diet for the modern wo/man.

Since its inception the Booker prize has taken on a number of sponsors, hence the current prefix of Mann. It has also given rise to two other related prizes: The Booker Russian Novel Prize and The Caine Prize for African Writing, thereby allowing celebration and promotion of these otherwise under represented ‘groups.’ In this sense the Booker is doing for diversity what the LDV Vans trophy has done for lower league football.
The winner of this years award will be announced on Tuesday 10th October at the Guildhall, London whereby the judges will be removed from their cupboards and given a free for all in McDonalds. The sleep deprived judges in question are Hermione Lee (Chair), biographer, academic and a reviewer; Simon Armitage, poet and novelist; Candia McWilliam, award-winning novelist; critic Anthony Quinn; and actor Fiona Shaw. The winner will be chosen from the following:

Kiran Desai The Inheritance of Loss - Hamish Hamilton
Kate Grenville The Secret River - Canongate
M.J. Hyland Carry Me Down - Canongate
Hisham Matar In the Country of Men - Viking
Edward St Aubyn Mother’s Milk - Picador
Sarah Waters The Night Watch – Virago

I will be reviewing these over the following months starting with my prediction, Sarah Waters. Of the selection, Hermoine Lee, Chair of Judges, has said:

‘Each of these novels has what we as judges were most looking for, a distinctive original voice, an audacious imagination that takes readers to undiscovered countries of the mind, a strong power of story-telling and a historical truthfulness. Each of these novels creates a world you inhabit without question or distrust while you are reading, and a mood, an atmosphere, which lasts long after the reading is over.’

Previous winners

2005 - John Banville, The Sea
2004 - Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty
2003 - DBC Pierre, Vernon God Little
2002 - Yann Martel, Life of Pi
2001 - Peter Carey, True History of the Kelly Gang
2000 - Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin
1999 - J M Coetzee, Disgrace
1998 - Ian McEwan, Amsterdam
1997 - Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
1996 - Graham Swift, Last Orders*
1995 - Pat Barker, The Ghost Road*
1994 - James Kelman, How Late It Was, How Late
1993 - Roddy Doyle, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
1992 - Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient* and Barry Unsworth, Sacred Hunger
1991 - Ben Okri, The Famished Road
1990 - A S Byatt, Possession*
1989 - Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day*
1988 - Peter Carey, Oscar and Lucinda*
1987 - Penelope Lively, Moon Tiger
1986 - Kingsley Amis, The Old Devils
1985 - Keri Hulme, The Bone People
1984 - Anita Brookner, Hotel du Lac*
1983 - J M Coetzee, Life & Times of Michael K
1982 - Thomas Keneally, Schindler's Ark*
1981 - Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children
1980 - William Golding, Rites of Passage
1979 - Penelope Fitzgerald, Offshore
1978 - Iris Murdoch, The Sea, the Sea
1977 - Paul Scott, Staying On*
1976 - David Storey, Saville*
1975 - Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Heat and Dust*
1974 - Nadine Gordimer, The Conservationist, Stanley Middleton, Holiday
1973 -J G Farrell, The Siege of Krishnapur
1972 - John Berger, G
1971 - V S Naipaul, In a Free State
1970 - Bernice Rubens, The Elected Member
1969 - P H Newby, Something to Answer For

*indicates the book has been made into a film – for those of you who prefer Blockbuster to Waterstones

James Walker's website
Booker Prize website

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