Sunday 3 August 2008


So, the Booker longlist is out. Here it is:

Aravind Adiga The White Tiger
Gaynor Arnold Girl in a Blue Dress
Sebastian Barry The Secret Scripture
John Berger From A to X
Michelle de Kretser The Lost Dog
Amitav Ghosh Sea of Poppies
Linda Grant The Clothes on Their Backs
Mohammed Hanif A Case of Exploding Mangoes
Philip Hensher The Northern Clemency
Joseph O'Neill Netherland
Salman Rushdie The Enchantress of Florence
Tom Rob Smith Child 44
Steve Toltz A Fraction of the Whole

Guess what? I've not read any of them, though I do have Tolz's book (well, three books, isn't it?) I turned down a chance to read Child 44 because it sound
ed like the absolute opposite of my cup of tea, and I haven't heard of the others. Actually, I think someone mentioned the Mangoes one at Book Group a while ago... anyway, I have little intention of seeking out the rest.

Turns out I have read two Booker prize winners - Possession by AS Byatt, which was very good, and The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst, which was not. Throwing in all the shortlisted books, I've read another five: A Month in the Country by JL Carr; The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood; Atonement and On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan; Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller. That's seven, out of over 200 possible titles... So you can see that I'm not a particuarly frenetic follower of the prize - though it's nice to keep half an eye on it, just out of interest.

What I find rather more interesting is the judges - I have a personal interest in this, since a tutor turned down working with me on a thesis, one of the reasons being her commitments as Booker judge - but what an interesting group they make. Do go and have a look on the Wikipedia page. They seem to get some pretty reputable writers, some who have been nominated before, the odd celebrity (Nigella Lawson, anyone?) but generally groups who have stood the test of time far more than the books nominated. And more in my line, as it happens. Of the judges, not all of whom are authors, I've read books by:

Frank Kermode
Richard Hoggart
AS Byatt
Susan Hill
Claire Tomalin
Hermione Lee
Fay Weldon
Libby Purves
Sebastian Faulks
Penelope Fitzgerald
Gillian Beer
John Sutherland

and have books by quite a few of the others. In fact, from this year on, I'm going to be watching out for the chosen judges, rather than the chosen books. A far more lastingly interesting indication of the literary world, I reckon.


  1. Simon, I would strongly recommend J.G.Farrell. He won with "The siege of Krishnapur" but I think "Singapore Grip" is actually a better novel.

  2. Possibly Nigella Lawson was chosen for her past employment as Deputy Literary Editor of the Sunday Times rather than her celebrity status, which wasn't nearly so apparent in 1998.

  3. Hey,
    have you seen this?

  4. Ahem, Nigella has an Oxford degree, just like you :-)

    I'm not a Booker fan, either. I second the recommendation of J G Farrell, who died too young.

  5. Oh dear, I appear to have given the impression that I don't appreciate Nigella - I'm sure she's wonderful! Not that an Oxford degree should put one on the panel, since I would be hopelessly ill-qualified to judge it. But I do apologise to Nigella :-)


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