Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Fisking NBR on Emily Perkins

In the 4 May issue of National Business Review, David Cohen writes about speculation that Emily Perkins’ new novel The Forrests may be a contender for the 2012 Man Booker prize. The piece is not online, because NBR’s owner Barry Colman is not silly, so here it is:
“Kiwi author in Booker prize buzz” screamed a Fairfax headline the other day. It was referring to the New Zealand author Emily Perkins being tipped to win this year’s Man Booker prize, which along with the Pulitzer prize is considered to be the English-speaking world’s most prestigious literary award, for a new book, The Forrests.
The latest issue of Metro puts the same suggestion more amusingly in its regular 20 Questions, asking if the [sic] tipping Ms Perkins for the prize is the equivalent of having the bone people pointed at you – but then the magazine lets itself down somewhat by a subsequent piece proclaiming that the book should indeed be considered for a Man Booker. [. . .]
The Fairfax piece quotes the New Zealand Book Council’s chief execu­tive Noel Murphy as saying that the organisers of a hitherto unknown festival in Wales had liked the book so much that it was now consid­ered a hot favourite to win the Man Booker.
Both Fairfax and the other media have overlooked a couple of rather important facts: virtually nobody here or abroad had seen or read the book until this past week, and no reputable media outlet outside this country has yet to pick up on the shoo-in-for-the-Booker buzz story.
Ms Perkins is, however, extreme­ly photogenic, and what’s more, she will be appearing at three events at this month’s Auckland Writers & Readers Festival.
What odds would Sky City offer on the wager that the talented and well-regarded authoress will almost certainly not win this year’s Man Booker prize, now even make the shortlist, and that this latest blaze of publicity might possibly have nothing more to it than a pitch to sell additional tickets for her com­ing gigs?
Very long odds, I’d say, re the ticket-selling. Let’s look at the source material. The Fairfax story begins:
New Zealand author Emily Perkins has been tipped to win this year’s Man Booker prize.
While the longlist for the Man Booker – considered the world’s most prestigious literary award – is not announced till July, the Welsh-based Hay Festival this week tipped Perkins’ soon-to-be-released book The Forrests to win.
New Zealand Book Council chief executive Noel Murphy said the Hay Festival was a major festival.
 He believed Perkins had a good chance of winning. “People I know have read it and raved about it.”
The Metro review concludes:
Already, influential British types are talking about this as a Booker winner. If there’s justice in the book prize world, which there often isn’t, it will be in the running.
The “British types” must be the people at what Cohen calls the “hitherto-unknown festival in Wales”. I spent only a few days in Wales but that was long enough to learn never to refer to anyone from Wales as British. More to the point, the festival in question, at Hay-on-Wye, is quite famous, as Noel Murphy says above. One could almost call it world-famous, possibly one of the most famous in the world. It has been running for 25 years, is sponsored by the Daily Telegraph, and comedian Bill Bailey had Muriel Spark as his opening act. The programme note for Emily Perkins’ session there on 10 June – next month – reads:
The Forrests is our tip for this year’s Man Booker – a New Zealand novel that sings with colour and memory; that speaks of family and time, dysfunction, ageing and loneliness, about heat, youth, and how life can change if ‘you're lucky enough to be around for it’.
I’m sure the writer of the programme note thought he or she was being nice, like Metro’s reviewer, but it is silly to the max to predict how the judges will respond to any book, especially in this case when the Booker longlist will not be announced until July. (Disclosure: I am on a panel discussing book awards at the Auckland Writers’ and Readers’ Festival next Sunday.) Worse, this building up of expectations is very hard on authors: their lives are hard enough already.

As for “virtually nobody here or abroad had seen or read the book until this past week”, the organisers of the Hay and Auckland festivals will certainly have read it – advance copies of potential best-sellers circulate around the industry long before publication. Even humble provincial types like me see them.

And as for the “this latest blaze of publicity might possibly [be] a pitch to sell additional tickets for her coming gigs” at the Auckland festival – this is highly unlikely. The stories quoted above were published by Fairfax and ACP, which have nothing to do with the festival – it is sponsored by rival media company APN. 


Anonymous said...

And yet no nomination for The Forrests in the NZ Post Book Awards. Curious.

Stephen Stratford said...

It isn't curious at all. The 2012 awards are for books published in 2011. The Forrests, published in 2012, will be eligible for the 2013 awards.