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Best Booker book?

February 23, 2008

The prestigious Man Booker Prize will hand out one of its periodic special prizes, this time called the Best of the Booker. The simple summary, straight from … well, the Man:

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction announced today (Thursday 21 February) a one-off award – The Best of the Booker – to celebrate the prestigious literary prize’s 40th anniversary. The Best of the Booker will honour the best overall novel to have won the prize since it was first awarded on 22 April 1969. 41 novels will be eligible for the award as there were two winners in both 1974 and in 1992.

This is the second time that a celebratory award has been created by the prize. In 1993 – the 25th anniversary – Salman Rushdie won the Booker of Bookers with the 1981 winning novel Midnight’s Children following the decision by a judging panel which included Malcolm Bradbury, David Holloway and WL Webb.

The Best of the Booker will, for the first time, be inviting the public to help decide on which novel deserves to take this prestigious one-off award. The public will choose from a shortlist of six novels to be selected by a panel judges chaired by Victoria Glendinning. The two other judges on the panel are writer and broadcaster Mariella Frostrup and John Mullan, Professor of English at UCL. Their shortlist will be announced in May, and public voting will then begin here on the Man Booker Prize website.

Leading candidates for The Best of the Booker include Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Michael Ondaatje’s English Patient, Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger, and Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. And while Martel’s 2002 winner is emerging as an early favorite among bookmakers, The Stranger‘s Paul Constant offered yesterday something of a rough counterpoint, calling The Life of Pi “an embarrassing piece of fluff strung out into a ‘twist’ ending so weak and unnatural that the author had to couch the twist with its own criticism in order to get away with it.”

Strangely, that kind of makes me want to read the book. I mean, if it’s that bad ….

Anyway, including the public in the prize selection is an interesting twist that reopens the field. Rushdie’s 1981 Booker Prize-winning novel Midnight’s Children was selected in 1993 as the “Booker of Bookers”, the best novel of the first twenty-five years of Man Booker Prizes. Both Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger and Ondaatje’s English Patient were eligible for that consideration, having shared the Booker Prize in 1992. So it would have been strange if a panel of judges had selected a new Best of the Booker that was, in fact, older. Of course, there are few sights so bizarre as art critics at war with one another, so that would have been entertaining. Nonetheless, of the favorites among the bookmakers so far, Rushdie’s is the oldest, followed by Ondaatje and Unsworth. In other words, no book that won a Booker Prize more than sixteen years ago impresses the bookmakers.

And, yes, I’m kind of wondering who would actually put money on this sort of thing. I mean, sure, people will bet on anything. But … y’know … I mean … er … okay.

–bd

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