… Then again, not every literary prize needs to be contentious or grim, even with a maverick winner. Take the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction, which in addition to being a mouthful is extremely British, dedicated in equal parts to champagne and P.G. Wodehouse—yet was won this year for the first time, with no grousing or walking off the set, by an American. A Russian-born American, in fact: Gary Shteyngart, who won for his slightly futuristic, vaguely dystopian, very funny and also sad tale of love and longing, Super Sad True Love Story.
While Shteyngart’s novel has no butlers or bumbling aristocrats, leaning more toward text messaging and youth-culture acronyms, it sits solidly in the satirical tradition that the Wodehouse prize celebrates. Laura Miller has called him “the Joseph Heller of the information age,” and his Lenny Abramov certainly stands up to any antihero of any nationality.
Of course, the lack of infighting could have something to do with the fact that the prize apparently has one judge—Peter Florence, who’s also a founder and director of the Hay Festival. One can debate and second-guess oneself, sure, but rarely does one pull a hissy fit and knock over chairs storming out of the room.
Shteyngart will take home a jeroboam of Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvée and a 52-volume set of the Everyman Library’s P.G. Wodehouse edition. He’ll also have a Gloucestershire Old Spot pig named after his novel, although it doesn’t get to come back to New York with him—rather, it will languish with its fellow Wodehouse prize-winner pigs, which are likewise blissfully unaware of bearing names like Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi (2009) and A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (2005). Presumably the one walking around with the moniker Super Sad True Love Story doesn’t know it’s named after an American, either.
You can hear Shteyngart reading from his novel here, and below is the newest trailer, in honor of the book’s paperback release.
(Photo of the Gloucestershire Old Spot boar, name unknown, courtesy of Wikipedia.)