Monday, October 10, 2005

Posh Bingo?

Being the favourite for the Booker Prize usually puts the kibosh on your chances, and if you have also publicly dismissed the prize as "posh bingo" - as Julian Barnes did once - well, that probably doesn't help either. Even so, Arthur & George is the hot favourite to win tomorrow night. Coincidentally (I don't think) BBC Radio 4 have chosen it to be this week's Book At Bedtime. I'll certainly be tuning in.

I have to say that I struggled with it at first. I thought the early part of the book plodded along: alternating, rather monotonously, between the early years of Arthur and George. Maybe it was my aversion to all things Victorian but, finding it rather pedestrian, I put it down - and for a long time didn't feel like picking it up again. When I finally did I quickly became engrossed in Barnes's recreation of this extraordinary miscarriage of justice from a century ago. It should win. I wish I'd backed it at 7-1.

Then again those odds of 12-1 against Ali Smith are still very tempting. Imaginative, vivacious and witty, I suspect that The Accidental is the book which will most reward re-reading - and since the judges will (presumably) have read all six books a second time (at least) that might be significant.

Her namesake can't be discounted either. From what I've read of On Beauty (which still isn't much - tempus doesn't half fugit) it is a book I would recommend and, at the end of the day (after it gets dark), judging a literary prize means, effectively, recommending a book to thousands of complete strangers. Although reading Zadie's updation (if that's not a word it should be) of Howard's End is like watching an athlete breaking the record for the 110m hurdles knowing that it won't count because of 'wind-assistance' and wondering how much difference the wind actually makes. And those emails at the start: perfectly punctuated, unabbreviated, grammatical emails from a twenty-year old? Nah. UR avin a larf m8.

I'm still surprised that Never Let Me Go made the shortlist ahead of Slow Man, Saturday, and Shalimar The Clown. As I've said before, it left me cold. It feels like a miniature painted in the middle of a large canvas - dwarfed by all the blank space the artist has left for the viewer to fill in themselves. Where are we? When are we? "England, late 1990s" we are told at the start of the book - but, surely it isn't our world. So is this a parallel universe, or what? Has something just flown over my head?

As for Ireland's hopes, John Banville's prose may be the best on show - there are few ordinary sentences in The Sea - but perhaps he over-eggs the pudding. Trips to the dictionary are all too frequent: lineaments; levitant; minatory; velutinous; cicatrice; ichor... To stretch the culinary metaphor, it's like a fine soup full of crunchy bits you have to pick out of your teeth. And Sebastian Barry's novel is moving in every sense: A Long Long Way marches briskly along (which came as a relief to me because I was all warred out a long long time ago) while giving us new perspectives on loyalty and conflict.

I wonder how much conflict there will be in the judges' chambers? With such a wide open shortlist to choose from there could be a long debate tomorrow - they might strive and strive and make them wait but, between thee and me, I think they will call Barnes top of the shop.

Ali is the greatest in my eyes though. Add to My MSN Add to My Yahoo! Add to Google - Get paid to have your say


At Monday, October 10, 2005 at 10:39:00 AM GMT+1, Blogger botticelli graphiti said...

I haven't read the shortlist, as I've had exams, but I love both Zadie Smith and Ali Smith. I think I love Zadie a trifle more, but they're so different.

I know I'd die having to judge from this shortlist. It's so good.

Ali Smith is like lemon meringue pie in rainbow colours, though, and Zadie Smith is like a painting by a dutch master. Totally different.

I haven't read enough by Ishiguro, Barnes, Banville or Barry to really remark on them, but I'd love Zadie Smith to win.


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