Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Top of the Shop

Julian Barnes' number finally came up last night when The Sense of an Ending won the £50,000 Man Booker Prize for 2011. It was the fourth time he had been shortlisted, having previously been a runner-up with Flaubert's Parrot (1984), England, England (1998) and Arthur and George (2005).

In an infamous 1987 article about the Booker Prize in The London Review of Books, Barnes had written that "the only sensible attitude to the Booker is to treat it as posh bingo. It is El Gordo, the Fat One, the sudden jackpot that enriches some plodding Andalusian muleteer." However, in a recent interview he was more equanimous: "I've had reasonably long experience of not winning - and I think I've exhausted all the ins and outs of that, so I wouldn't object to a change."

I am pleased that, 27 years after he should have won, Julian Barnes is finally a Booker Prize winner, especially as we are now spared the possibility of a ‘Best of Barnesy Booker Prize’. Personally I was somewhat nonplussed by some aspects of The Sense of an Ending but maybe, like his uncomprehending narrator Tony Webster, I just didn’t get it, and a second reading will help. Also my comment that there was no great literature on the shortlist may have been too glib.

Chair of the judges, Dame Stella Rimington, said that "The Sense of an Ending has the markings of a classic of English Literature. It is exquisitely written, subtly plotted and reveals new depths with each reading." Gaby Wood, also one of this year's judges, points out that "the title is taken from a seminal piece of literary criticism written in 1965 by the great Frank Kermode, who died last year (and who, incidentally, was a judge of the inaugural Booker Prize in 1969)".

Dame Stella also provided one of the quotes of the year in reponse to some unkind and unecessary barbs: "People weirder than me have chaired the Booker," she said, "A previous chair was Michael Portillo."

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At Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 5:30:00 PM GMT+1, Blogger Jenny said...

This was my first experience with Barnes. What is your favorite novel of his? I thought the story was interesting, but very internal, and I thought the judges were looking for adventure this year, or so they said.

At Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 10:29:00 PM GMT+1, Blogger PJE said...

I would have to say Flaubert's Parrot, or possibly Metroland (although it's so long since I read that one I can barely remember it). I realised last night that I have four of his books waiting patiently on my shelves including A History of the World in 10½ Chapters, which I've been meaning to read for ages, and Staring at the Sun - which one reviewer described as "Undoubtedly much too good to win the Booker Prize" - and that was in 1986, so that's a quarter of a century of being snubbed finally over for him!

Maybe the judges were worried that if they snubbed Barnes again the assembled literati might Occupy the Guildhall in protest!


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