The Lit Review |89| More Man Booker Controversy


This week, Julian Barnes is kicking up a fuss amid more Man Booker controversy. “The Americans have got enough prizes of their own,” he says. Barnes has been known to inhabit the minds of tortured geniuses, and now he’s having a real life moan on the subject of US authors entering the Man Booker.

The prize was expanded to include the US in 2014. “The idea of (the Booker) being Britain, Ireland, the old Commonwealth countries and new voices in English from around the world gave it a particular character and meant it could bring on writers.” Sounds reasonable enough…

Those in agreement with Barnes include 2011 judge Susan Hill and author Phillip Hensher who predicted the end of English winners. “It is hard to see how the American novel will fail to dominate. Not through excellence, necessarily, but simply through an economic superpower exerting its own literary tastes, just as the British empire imposed the idea that Shakespeare was the greatest writer who ever lived throughout its 19th-century colonies,” says Hensher.

Clearly Barnes, Hill and Hensher haven’t been reading the Irish Times recently. (Maybe its the paywall) HeadStuff readers may remember when Lisa Coen and Sarah Davis Goff drew our attention to the fact that books published by Irish publishers are ineligible for the prize.


Barnes is willing to stick up for the “unknown Canadian.”

Eleven months later, the Oxford Literary Festival have pledged to begin paying authors who appear at the festival. Back in January, Phillip Pullman resigned as the festival’s patron over the dispute. In the meantime thirty authors signed an open letter to the festival, expressing their dissatisfaction.

Amidst reports of multi million dollar deals and best sellers, the average income for an author is the UK is roughly £12,500.

At the time, Society of Authors member Joanne Harris also had misgivings, though she was caught in a difficult position.“It was a very tricky situation last year when Philip pulled out because I thought ‘Really, I should do the same’,” she says. In 2016, Harris only attended festivals which pay, including Words Conference in Dublin this May. HeadStuff readers may remember the topic of discussion that day was… payment of authors at literary festivals!

Italian translator and poet Erri de Luca is the winner of this year’s Bad Sex in Fiction award. He has previously won the 2013 European Prize for Literature. The offending passage, in which de Luca describes genitals as ballet dancers “hovering en pointe” comes from his latest novel, The Day Before Happiness.

Clearly, the honour came at least a day too early for de Luca, as it was his publisher Allen Lane (the company, no the the person) who accepted the award on his behalf. Followers of the Lit Review may remember our coverage of the much less judgemental Good Sex in Fiction award earlier in the year.

And finally, the reading public may still be in thrall to the Boy Who Lived, but booksellers in the UK have had enough. The Waterstones book of the Year for 2016 will The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. The novel concerns a mythical beast who terrorises a Victorian community.

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