Julian Barnes wins the 2011 Man Booker Prize
He is the author who described the Booker Prize as "posh bingo" and last night his number came up.
Last night after being nominated four times, Julian Barnes’s won the 2011 Man Booker Prize.
The 65-year-old writer won for The Sense of an Ending, a 150-page novella about a middle-aged man looking back on his younger days.
His win was also one in the eye for critics who have derided this year’s shortlist as too low-brow. Dame Stella Rimington, chairman of the judging panel, outraged the literary establishment when she declared that she was looking for “readability”, so much so that a rival prize was announced last week to champion more high-minded fare.
The shortlist included a Western and a debut novel based on the death of Damilola Taylor, but there was no place for heavyweight authors Alan Hollinghurst or Graham Swift.
However, Barnes’s elegant prose was the bookmakers’ favourite throughout, and the judges took just 31 minutes to reach their decision.
Explaining why The Sense of an Ending won out, Dame Stella said: “We thought it was a beautifully written book, and a book that spoke to humankind in the 21st century.”
She said the book “has the markings of a classic of English Literature”, describing it as “exquisitely written, subtly plotted and revealing new depths with each reading”.
The protagonist, Tony Webster, is a divorcee who lives an ordered and humdrum existence, but finds his life unravelling after a lawyer’s letter causes him to revisit his school days.
“It is a book about somebody who appears to be at first blush a rather boring bloke, and you think, ‘Why are we reading about a very boring bloke?’ But gradually, as the book goes on, he’s revealed to be far from that,” said Dame Stella.
“What this book does is unravel for us this person and who he really is, and it shows that his memory of what happened and his understanding of himself is actually quite wrong.”
As for the controversy over the ‘dumbing down’ of the prize, Dame Stella appeared to have taken it in her stride.
The former head of MI5, now a spy novelist, said: “I’ve had a long life in varied, different careers and I’ve been through many crises of one kind or another, against which this one pales.”
Accepting the award, Barnes said: “I would like to thank the judges – who I won’t hear a word against – for their wisdom, and the sponsors for their cheque.”
He declared himself “as much relieved as I am delighted” and likened himself to Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentinian writer who was considered by the Nobel Prize committee year after year but always overlooked.
Barnes said: “When asked, as he continually was, why he had never won the Nobel Prize, Borges used to reply that there was a cottage industry devoted to not giving Borges the Nobel Prize.
"Over the last years, in occasional moments of mild paranoia, I have wondered whether there wasn’t some similar, sinister organisation operating over here.”
Winning the award, he joked, had made him realise that the judges “are the wisest heads in literary Christendom”.
Barnes triumphed 27 years after his first Booker nomination.
He was shortlisted in 1984 for Flaubert’s Parrot but lost to Anita Brookner for Hotel Du Lac. England, England was nominated in 1998 but beaten by Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam.
His 2005 novel, Arthur and George, was strongly fancied but John Banville took the prize for The Sea.
His appearance at the Guildhall ceremony to accept the £50,000 prize was a rare one – Barnes has avoided Booker-related publicity, perhaps on account of his infamous remark about the prize.
“The only sensible attitude to the Booker is to treat it as posh bingo,” he said. “It drives publishers mad with hope, booksellers mad with greed, judges mad with power, winners mad with pride, and losers (the unsuccessful short-listees plus every other novelist in the country) mad with envy and disappointment.”