1970 novel to get award in 2010

March 27, 2010

Photo source: Man Booker website

There’s a do-over going on at the Man Booker Prize.  An archivist discovered the prestigious U.K. book award missed a year — 1970 — when the award moved from presentation in April 1971 for books published in the previous year to presentation in November 1971 for books published in the current year. Oops! The flip caused 1970 authors and their novels to be skipped. So now there’s a one-off Lost Man Booker Prize to be awarded May 19 to fill the gap. 

And that’s just what is  going on — a fill-the-gap effort and not a true effort to rectify the mishap. Otherwise there would be a cash prize with the award and a committee of judges determining the winner, as is customary for the Man Booker.  Instead, as reported by the U.K. TimesOnline, the  award offers “only retrospective glory for the author, a likely sales spike and a special bound edition of their winning book.” In addition, the winner will be chosen not by a panel of judges but by the public. Voting on the website is open now and closes on April 23. 

Certainly the Lost Man Booker Prize gives us a chance to look back to a list of recommended books from 1970, but I can’t help seeing the transparent gimmick and freaky neatness of it, let alone the flawed approach. 

  • Those who selected the shortlist of finalists were born in or around 1970. Who thought that was the right idea? Shouldn’t they have been fiction readers in 1970?
  • I wonder also about John and Jane Public selecting the winner. There’s no surety they’ll have read all let alone any of the contenders. What if they’re owners of multiple email accounts and click happy?
  • Finally, even though more than half the authors on the shortlist are dead, I say “no fair” there’s not a cash prize, the equivalent of what it would’ve been in 1970. Given the rate of inflation since then, I can’t imagine the monies would be that much of a dent in the Booker purse. 

BTW, the living authors are Shirley Hazzard and Nina Bawden. Hilariously, and a signal of the absurdity going on, Bawden couldn’t remember what her book was about when she found out she was on the shortlist, according to the TimesOnline

It’s unfortunate the Man Booker committee didn’t consider the richness of their history as it plays out over time and allow the gap to inform that history of a significant change. The Pulitzer Prize for the novel/fiction lists “no award” for 1917, 1920, 1941, 1946, 1954, 1957, 1964, 1971, 1974, 1977. The reasons create interesting literary history.
 
Here’s the shortlist of finalists for the Lost Man Booker Prize: 

  • The Birds on the Trees by Nina Bawden. Middle-class parents have their lives turned upside down by their rebellious 19-year-old son.
  • The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark. A dark story about a woman bored with her job who seeks adventure with consequences.
  • The Vivisector by Patrick White.  A painter is obsessed with his work, and the people who love him become victims of his art.
  • The Bay of Noon by Shirley Hazzard. A British woman is introduced to a writer and her friends in Naples, changing her life.
  • Troubles by J. G. Farrell. A military major returns from the Great War to find his Anglo-Irish fiancée and her family-owned hotel greatly changed.
  • Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault. The first installment of Renault’s trilogy on the life of Alexander the Great.

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