You Win Some, You Lose Some

This was the week that packed the one-two punch of fall literary awards, with the Nobel Prize in Literature announced on Thursday and the Man Booker winner named yesterday. The Nobel ruffled no feathers this time around, with their choice of Peruvian writer and politician Mario Vargas Llosa. He’s a popular enough figure not to furrow brows the way Herta Müller did last year (or Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio the year before), with an accessible body of work, unthreatening neoliberal politics and even a minor literary feud under his belt—he punched out Gabriel García Márquez in 1976. The Nobel Committee’s choice of Vargas Llosa was like voting for puppies: There wasn’t much fault you could find in it even if you tried, although the Guardian was rooting hard for Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

The Booker pick, on the other hand, was a bit confounding. While C was the popular favorite—to the point where Ladbroke’s had to suspend its Booker action on Wednesday because of a sudden disproportionate betting surge on McCarthy’s novel—with Emma Donoghue’s Room running a close second, the prize went to Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question. Not only was it carrying the longest odds of the six, but I can’t think of a single person I spoke with since the longlist was announced in July who actually liked it. I realize this is purely anecdotal, but really—what about these prizes isn’t? I spend a good amount of time talking to people about what they’re reading, and not one of my cross-section of friends and acquaintances cared for it. Even Salon’s Laura Miller admits she couldn’t get through it. Jacobson’s book has been lauded as the first humorous novel to take the Booker. Still, I’m just not feeling the love. Then again, that’s what makes horse races. Everybody remembers the one book they were crazy for that everyone else in their book club hated. (Hello, Atmospheric Disturbances!) And it’s probably a good reminder that these awards are absolutely 100% subjective. But I’m very glad I didn’t have any money on this one.

And don’t worry, there are more prizes on the horizon. The National Book Award finalists have just been announced, and the list is an interesting mix of the popular and the lesser-known, with a healthy selection of small presses represented. The enormous IMPAC Dublin longlist should be showing up in a month, and there’s always the Morning News Tournament of Books initial picks at year’s end. In fact, they’re taking suggestions now. So whoever thinks they can go those prize committees and laureates one better, speak up! There isn’t going to be another Wolf Hall sweeping the field, for better or worse, and the competition is wide open.

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2 Comments to You Win Some, You Lose Some

  1. Margarita's Gravatar Margarita
    October 15, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Truly, art and politics are not to be separated. How about a discussion of literary merit?

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