Friday, February 5, 2010

The lost Man Booker Prize

Booksellers NZ reports – OK, publishes the press release – that:
In 1971, just two years after it began, the Booker Prize ceased to be awarded retrospectively and became a prize for the best novel in the year of publication. At the same time, the award moved from April to November, creating a whole year's gap when fiction published in1970 fell through the net. These books were simply never considered for the prize – until now.

Forty years on, a panel of three judges - all of whom were born in or around 1970 - has been appointed to select a shortlist of six novels from those books. They are journalist and critic, Rachel Cooke, newsreader, Katie Derham and novelist, Tobias Hill.

They will select a shortlist from 22 books which would have been eligible and are still in print and generally available today.

The Hand Reared Boy, Brian Aldiss
A Little Of What You Fancy?, H.E. Bates,
The Birds On The Trees, Nina Bawden
A Place In England, Melvyn Bragg
Down All The Days, Christy Brown
Bomber, Len Deighton
Troubles, J.G.Farrell
The Circle, Elaine Feinstein
The Bay Of Noon, Shirley Hazzard
A Clubbable Woman, Reginald Hill
I'm The King Of The Castle, Susan Hill
A Domestic Animal, Francis King
The Fire Dwellers, Margaret Laurence
Out Of The Shelter, David Lodge
A Fairly Honourable Defeat, Iris Murdoch
Fireflies, Shiva Naipaul
Master and Commander, Patrick O'Brian
Head To Toe, Joe Orton
Fire From Heaven, Mary Renault
A Guilty Thing Surprised, Ruth Rendell
The Driver's Seat, Muriel Spark
The Vivisector, Patrick White

The shortlist will be announced in March but the international reading public will decide the winner by voting via the Man Booker Prize website. The overall winner will be announced in May.
I suppose Farrell is a contender; the Len Deighton and Reginald Hill are good but too popular; Susan Hill could have an outside chance; the Iris Murdoch, David Lodge and Shiva Naipaul are not their best; I have no clue about the Patrick White.

I’d have to re-read these two to choose between them but my vote would go to either the Shirley Hazzard or the Muriel Spark.

Hazzard (who is still with us) has written four novels and one collection of short stories – all five books are great. She lived for a while as a girl in Wellington but the experience does not appear to have harmed her.

I’d like to say that Spark towered head and shoulders above her contemporaries, but I believe she was in fact vertically challenged. Still, she is my all-time favourite Jewish Catholic Scottish novelist.

The Lost Man Booker Prize is the brainchild of Peter Straus, who used to be the publisher at Picador. He is also, I can attest, a top bloke. Well, he bought me champagne once.


Bob Smith (the other one) said...

Susan Hill is very under-rated. Possibly in with a chance.

Stephen Stratford said...

Yes, though Christy Brown too is possibly in with a chance, going on reputation.

Some of those writers were stars then but not much read now, I think, e.g. Brian Aldiss. Not that is a guide to quality at all, and possibly Mary Renault will surprise us all. I vaguely recall some positive comments in the UK media recently about her excellent historical novels for children.