Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Booker Record Intact
The Booker judges continued their streak of overlooking the bettors' favorites, passing over Lloyd Jones and Ian McEwan to honor "the rank outsider" (Times) Anne Enright's "exhilaratingly bleak" THE GATHERING and thumbing their collective noses at the British literary establishment along the way.
Chair of the judging panel Howard Davies hailed Enright's book as "a powerful, uncomfortable and even, at times, angry book . . . an unflinching look at a grieving family in tough and striking language." Davies said it was "not everybody's first choice," but did call it "a choice with which all the judges were happy."
Before announcing the winner, Davies criticized the UK's newspaper reviewers for praising mediocre works from well-known writers and overlooking books like Enright's. "I think a little more distance, and critical scepticism, is required by our reviewers, together with greater readiness to notice new names," Davies said. He also indicated the judges were "surprised by the reverential tone adopted by reviewers in relation to books which, to us, did not come off at all." Why the judges were even looking at reviews instead of just the books themselves was not addressed--nor have we seen that question posed yet by the UK papers.
But they do hit back with their own opinions about the judges. The Telegraph says "Enright's victory is a major upset that is likely to fuel increasing criticism that the prize, routinely hailed as the world's most prestigious award for literary fiction, is out of touch with ordinary readers." Author Robert Harris says authors are being encouraged to write novels to please Booker judges that are "grim and unreadable and utterly off-putting for many readers.... They are elegant, elegiac but dull and dry. They do not connect with their readers. They are just deadening to read."
Enright's book ranked fifth in sales prior to the award among books on the shortlist, having sold approximately 3,000 copies, ahead of Indra Sinha's Animal's People. (Even though bettors favored Lloyd Jones's MISTER PIP, Bookscan figures cited in the press showed sales of just over 5,000 copies for that book.) Random UK says they are rushing a reprint of 50,000 copies of THE GATHERING.