Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Cynic in Me Is Not Surprised That There Are Two Booker Prize Winners This Year

Perhaps my cynical side is making me see something here that doesn't exist, but I'm thinking that once Margaret Atwood's The Testaments was nominated for the Booker Prize it became fairly likely that there would be two winners this year. Either that, or the book that otherwise would and should have won the prize was going to be cheated of its place in Booker Prize history.

So why do I say that? 

Because everything is political these days. Everything. And everything revolves around the near universal hatred of Donald Trump. Considering the newfound popularity of Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale which is based almost entirely on the ease with which it can be used to spread the anti-Trump message around the world, it was simply inevitable (almost pre-ordained) that The Testaments, a follow-up to The Handmaid's Tale, was/is going to win any prize for which it is nominated. 

The Booker judges have only done this twice before, in 1974 and in 1992. And in 1992, the rules were officially changed to forbid a sharing of the prize in future years because the Booker Prize Foundation’s literary director, Gaby Wood, felt that splitting the prize “detracts attention from both, rather than drawing attention to either.” BBC News quotes Peter Florence, chairman of the judges, explaining the decision this way, “…when rebellion is in the air, maybe we were a little moved by that.” As I see it, these days everything is about politics, political correctness, and otherwise being properly “woke” (a term that drives the grammarian in me absolutely crazy). So if you don’t agree with the rule, ignore it. Everyone else does.

I am not saying that The Testaments is a bad book or even one necessarily unworthy of the Booker. The reviews I’ve read are mostly positive, many of them enthusiastically so, but I have also seen quite a few comments that the book is really rather ordinary by Margaret Atwood standards. What I am saying is that the coronation seemed inevitable the day the book was longlisted. Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, the book that share’s this year’s Booker Prize, is notable because its author is the first black woman ever to win a Booker. The prize is particularly important for an author like Evaristo because, as she puts it, “It means my work gets out there to a much wider audience around the world.”

But, call me a cynic or not, I can’t help thinking that if Girl, Woman, Other had been written one year earlier, or one year later, its author would not be sharing the Booker Prize with another author. 


  1. Goodness, we are on the same wavelength. When it was announced on TV the other night I looked at my husband and said, 'Of course it's a shared award, how could the pc people *not* give Margaret Atwood the prize, pity Bernadine Evaristo who will likely find herself not remembered as the other half of the award'. An insightful post as always, Sam.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Cath. Sometimes I really hate how much of a cynic the world has turned me into, but I've been around long enough now to better understand how it all really works. The way that everything is filtered through the lens of politics makes me question every award and prize given because, often as not, those granting there prizes are more interested in scoring political points than in anything else. That really makes me sad.

      Even Atwood seemed a little embarrassed from what I saw in her acceptance speech.