Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Booker Prize Is Evil

British author Robert Harris, while admitting that there is no way that he would ever win the Booker Prize, decided to tell the world how little that bothers him. In an interview with Lucy Cavendish, he condemned the whole process:

"The Booker Prize is evil," he says. "No great authors in the past, from Dickens through to Kipling, Waugh, Joyce, Orwell etc would have had anything to do with it.

"The Booker casts a long shadow over literary life. It has swollen like a monstrous boil obscuring anything that was ever good about it. It encourages and fosters the difference between supposed 'literary' novels and other perfectly good books. It reveres a certain type of novel yet great writers of the world may never have featured in it and lots of books that are short-listed in it disappear without a trace."
Harris says he wants to speak out against the Booker because he feels so strongly about it. "I can see it probably looks a bit dog-in-the-manger as there is no conceivable way I would ever win it, or should win it," he says, "but that's not why I am saying this. The Booker ruins people's lives. It does a disservice to the public and it is damaging to authors and the industry, especially this hateful, ghastly long list. Authors feel their book has failed even before it's been published if it is not selected."

He says that when the prize first started it was probably to help bring the work of not so well known authors into the public realm. "I can see for a book like Yann Martel's Life of Pi it is a good thing, but over the past five or so years the judges have kowtowed to the worst sort of political correctness. It's hard to think of anyone who is non-PC or doesn't deal with the concerns of the sexual minority or colonial guilt who could possibly make it on to the list. The books are all written in the same way. They are elegant, elegiac but dull and dry. They do not connect with their readers. They are just deadening to read."

He saves the worst of his criticism though for the actual prize ceremony itself. "I go to the dinner and there are only about 20 authors there out of about 1,000 people. The rest are all the agents and the buyers and it's full of ghastly phoney hangers-on. In fact, I think the Booker sucks the oxygen out of the air.

It has been milked by publicists. No wonder that book Crystal is selling so well. It is probably a more enjoyable read."
Sour grapes? You decide, but I have to think that's largely what's going on here since Harris writes the kind of novel that is unlikely to ever win any of the various literary prizes handed out each year. He's a fine writer of a certain type of book, and I've enjoyed several of them. The whole tone of what he has to say in this interview makes me wonder if Cavendish didn't just catch him on a particularly bad day when he was feeling resentful about the caste system that exists in the publishing world, a system in which authors seem to have been generally relegated into two classes: those who seek to top the bestseller lists and those who have literary aspirations.

Harris has sold a large number of books in the past. Sounds like he needs a little love from his peers to make him feel better about his career.
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