Wednesday 22 November 2017

An envied prize and a shirked nod

Famously hostile to the notion of literary awards, John Le Carre has always instructed his publishers not to submit any of his books for prizes, though apparently there's not much he can do about being nominated -- along with twelve other novelists -- for this year's Man Booker International Prize for Fiction.

Carmen Callil, who's one of the three judges, is aware of Le Carre's strictures but insists that "what he wants is irrelevant". That's because this particular award, rather than depending upon submissions from publishers, is decided independently -- and therefore, Callil argues, Le Carre "cannot be unchosen". And so he must "put up with being admired so much by the judges that his name was on the list from the very first day".

Indeed, if he wins out over the other contenders (who include Philip Roth, Anne Tyler, David Malouf and James Kelman) when the award is announced on May 18, he can't even turn down the honour -- though I imagine he can send back the accompanying €80,000 cheque if he so wishes. One way or another, it's a rather pleasing pickle to be in.

And certainly the 79-year-old must have felt pleased by the tribute paid to him in the Guardian last weekend by Spanish novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafon, whose Shadows in the Wind (2004) was a critically acclaimed international bestseller.

Choosing Le Carre as his "hero", he thinks him "the real deal, still producing work of a quality that puts the rest of us to shame". And he admires him, too, for the fact that "instead of kissing arse, he kicks it -- big time".

For this reason, Zafon also applauds Le Carre's refusal to "compete for literary prizes as if he were a racehorse", adding that "it seems to me that no award could do Le Carre justice anyway".

Few of his readers would disagree, though some literary snobs still tend to dismiss him as a "genre" writer. Well, that's their loss.

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