Monday 11 November 2019

Authors’ ‘blurbs’ under fire from Man Booker Prize judge

Colin Thubron, an acclaimed travel writer and Man Booker nominated novelist, hit out at the “annoying” praise authors give other books.

The Man Booker Prize shortlist (Janie Airey)
The Man Booker Prize shortlist (Janie Airey)

By Sherna Noah, Press Association Senior Entertainment Correspondent

A Man Booker Prize judge and author has criticised novelists for the “embarrassing” blurbs they put on the back of books which make readers feel “incompetent”.

Colin Thubron, an acclaimed travel writer and Man Booker nominated novelist, hit out at the “annoying” praise as he helped announce this year’s Man Booker Prize shortlist.

Some blurbs “almost blackmail” readers into believing it is their fault if they do not enjoy a novel, he said.

While reading the titles submitted for this year’s £50,000 prize, he said that he learnt to ignore the gushing praise from other authors.

“Blurbs are outrageous in certain places,” the author, known for travel classics such as In Siberia, Shadow Of The Silk Road and To A Mountain In Tibet , said.

“There seem to be…, even quite well known people, who seem to earn their living making those blurbs and ‘saying this is the most profound book of our generation.'”

He added: “There are certain blurbs and authors’ quotes, from other authors… which do raise your expectations… that almost blackmail you into feeling that you’re either intellectually or morally incompetent if you don’t love this book or you’ve failed if you haven’t understood it… that if you haven’t loved it, you haven’t got the point. These can be pretty annoying.

“What other people think doesn’t matter at all.”

Thubron, who was longlisted himself for the Man Booker for To The Lost City in 2002, joked: “There was one case… a publisher submitted three or fours novels and he’d given the same blurb for each of them, ‘best novel since Tolstoy’.

“I’m just a little bit surprised that authors aren’t embarrassed by these amazing expectations that you’re led to have about the book you’re about to read.

“I would cringe with some of the descriptions.”

Six novels have been shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker – 4321 by Paul Auster, History Of Wolves by Emily Fridlund, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, Elmet by Fiona Mozley, Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders and Autumn by Ali Smith.

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