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The Booker Prize: Taste Over Judgement?

By Periscope @periscopepost
The Booker Prize: Taste over judgement?

Sophocles: Should have been a Booker judge: Photocredit Fotopedia.

I think the Booker Prize judges are out to get me. When the longlist came out, I threatened to leave the country if A D Miller’s Snowdrops made it onto the shortlist. I have no beef with A D Miller. I am sure that he is a very nice man, and I am sure that his novel will be enjoyed by many who like that sort of thing. But whether it deserves to be on the shortlist of what is meant to be a selection of the best novels of the year is another matter entirely. I have long since ceased to feel angry about the list. What’s the point, after all? Perhaps it all comes down to taste, in the end, and who can argue about taste?

But the real problem is, it isn’t just about taste. There are objective criteria which can be applied to books to judge their quality: structure, for instance, from the very basic unit of the sentence, to the overarching shape of a novel. Snowdrops just doesn’t cut the literary mustard in that sense. Its three subplots do not elegantly weave together; they are simply amplifications of each other. Its sentences, too, are clumsy.

And it doesn’t seem as if the judges have applied any criteria at all to this list, other than their own taste. In the Athenian Dionysia, their festivals of tragedy, you wouldn’t put up a comic satyr play, with its lusty heroes and bawdy humour, on the same level as a Sophocles tragedy. But that is effectively what these judges are doing. One can bang on and on about who the judges are – but I don’t think that necessarily matters, as they should be able to see things objectively, whether they are thriller writers or literary novelists. It just seems as if they are trying to make some sort of statement about the state of books. But whatever it is, it’s rather confused. Are they going for popularity? Are they trying to highlight the plight of independent publishers? There are other prizes for popularity – the deathly Richard and Judy, for instance; and there are other ways of bringing independent publishers to light.

It makes the Booker (sorry, the Man Booker, as we are bound to call it) look silly. How can it be taken seriously as an internationally renowned literary prize when it allows a paper-thin thriller on? Where is the richness, the nuance? Giles Coren has written a piece about Julian Barnes in The Times, suggesting that Barnes is too good to win the Booker Prize. And sadly, it looks like he’s right.

Perhaps the only way to succeed now is to write dross. Perhaps we are entering a world where ‘content’ is all, where style, substance and meaning come second to immediacy and thrills. Perhaps the Booker Prize next year will see Shit My Dad Says 2 and the Beano Annual on it. After all, they’re both entertaining, aren’t they? And that’s all that matters, to be entertained.

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