The Booker Prize has long been my favorite literary award, but over the last few years it has been letting me down. There was the year when the dreadful thriller Child 44 made the longlist and the actual prize was bestowed on The White Tiger; there was the year The Finkler Question won; and then there was last year, when Snowdrops and Pigeon English were shortlisted and the totally unremarkable The Sense of an Ending won. (Look, I love Julian Barnes as much as the next person, but this is not the book he should have won for.) It might have been enough to make a girl totally give up on the prize, were it not for the fact that in 2009 the Booker judges had the good sense to award the prize to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. (Thank God last year’s judge Chris Mullin–who expressed his preference for books that “zip along”–was not on the panel that year. Wolf Hall has many, many, many merits, but zipping along is not one of them.) To be honest, after the recent disappointments, this year I have been regarding my annual Bookerthon* with the attitude of a condemned woman.
But there is hope! The chair of this year’s judging panel, Sir Peter Stothard has stepped forward to allay my fears and assure me of a longlist that won’t cause me to gnash my teeth in frustration. (No, Stothard didn’t specifically mention my name, but I’m pretty sure I was uppermost in his mind.) According to the Evening Standard:
Last year’s Man Booker Prize was something of a PR disaster but Sir Peter Stothard, chair of this year’s judging panel, is intent on rescuing its reputation. “I hand-picked the judges,” he admitted for the first time last night…. “It was important that we got it right after last year.”
Which explains why most of his fellow judges are from the sphere of the high-minded Times Literary Supplement, which he edits.
Of course, one of the judges who isn’t from the Times Literary Supplement is a television star: Dan Stevens, better known as Matthew from Downton Abbey. Stothard’s defense of Stevens is a little less encouraging:
“He’s impossibly …,” Sir Peter repeated, without ever finding the adjective he wanted, before finally concluding, “but very learned, and very diligent.”
Very diligent. Hmm. That does sound like damning with faint praise to me. But still. Overall, I am hopeful that we will see a smarter, more interesting longlist this year, and I am keeping an open mind. (As long as Stothard and company don’t leave Bring Up the Bodies off the longlist. Then we will have words.)
*Every year, I spend roughly six weeks trying to read the whole longlist between the day it is announced and the day that the shortlist is revealed. My husband is currently in search of a good twelve-step program that might handle this.