Friday 9 December 2016

Ask not for whom the Nobel tolls, it tolls for Swedes

John Boland

Published 15/01/2012 | 06:00

The workings of the all-Swede Nobel committee, which recently honoured veteran Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer, is a reminder of "the essential silliness of the prize and our own foolishness at taking it seriously".

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That's the view of English-born novelist Tim Parks, expressed in a New York Review of Books blog post in which he describes the annual outcome of the jury's deliberations as "a burdensome decision to which the world increasingly and inexplicably ascribes a crazy importance".

In fact, Parks (whose 1997 novel Europa was shortlisted for the Booker Prize) sees the decision-making as generally so politically motivated that occasionally it must be a relief "to say the hell with it and give it to a Swede".

Nine Swedish writers have been so honoured, though the president of the Nobel literature committee, Per Wastberg, points out in a reply to Parks that Seamus Heaney (one of four Irish winners) has been among the eminent former laureates who've long proposed Transtromer as worthy of the prize.

Wastberg further makes the case for Transtromer by observing that not only has he been translated into 60 languages but that "there are cafes named after him in China and Slovenia".

And to think that the Irish diaspora can't even come up with a Shaw shebeen in Siberia, a Yeats cafe in Cadiz, a Beckett boozer in Boston or a Heaney hotel in Heidelberg.

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However, now that non-Nobel winner James Joyce is finally out of copyright, brace yourself for all sorts of vulgarities in his name -- an M&S line in Molly's bloomers, perhaps, or an extra-meaty and saucy Big Jim as an alternative to the standard Big Mac.

Stephen Joyce, until now the estate's keeper of the flame, has long been regarded as a balefully prohibitive figure who hindered the efforts of Joycean scholars and others wishing to quote from the master's work, but maybe we'll have cause to regret the absence of his stern rigour.

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