Wednesday 7 December 2016

The author who won't judge a Booker . . .

Published 28/05/2011 | 05:00

The reasons given by author and publisher Carmen Callil for resigning from the jury which declared Philip Roth winner of the 2011 Man Booker International Prize for Fiction seem rather muddled.

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Firstly, she was against the prize going to "yet another North American writer", which shouldn't be a consideration when judging excellence -- as she concedes herself in a piece written last week for the Guardian. Secondly, she says that of the four international awards given so far (the last was to Alice Munro), only one has been to an author not writing in English, as if that should matter, either.

Basically, though, she's no time for Roth, whose "reach is narrow" and whose "self-involvement and self-regard restrict him as a novelist". Indeed, "the more I read, the more tedious I found his work, the more I heard the swish of emperor's clothes".

In other words, she can't stand Roth's books and as she couldn't persuade her two fellow judges of that opinion, she felt she had to resign. Personally, I'd have given the award to John Le Carre, who was shortlisted, but that's neither here nor there.

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Still, controversies always provide good publicity for awards and the Booker has never been short of them -- starting with conservative contrarian Malcolm Muggeridge, who resigned as judge in 1971 because most of the submitted books were "mere pornography", and continuing the next year with winner John Berger denouncing the sponsor as a colonialist oppressor and giving half his prize money to the Black Panthers.

And the 1985 prize to Keri Hulme's unreadable The Bone People was against the wishes of judge Joanna Lumley, who thought it so bad that her verdict was "over my dead body".

Alas, no such spats attended the judging by Kate O'Toole and myself of this year's Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award, the winner of which will be announced on the opening night of the Listowel Writers' Week on June 1.

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