Sunday 19 November 2017

The longlist is just too silly for words

What's the point of a longlist in which 154 books are chosen as contenders for a literary prize? Why not make it 10 or even (in a spirit of generosity) 20? Anything over that is silly and more than 40 just plain daft.

But that's the International Impac Dublin Literary Award for you, so intent on being all things to all nations that the longlist features novels from 120 cities in 44 countries – Canada alone accounting for 13 of the books and eight coming from Ireland.

I suppose this guarantees publicity in far-flung places – along, of course, with the €100,000 prize, which has always struck me as boastfully excessive. But then everything about this award seems as excessive as it's arbitrary and my thoughts go out to Patrick McCabe, who's one of the five judges and who has to slog through the 154 contenders.

After reading 55 novels for last year's Kerry Book of the Year award, I don't envy him.


And I wonder how many of the longlisted books will be taken home from our public libraries.

Public Lending Right figures for last year in Ireland reveal that we're more literary-minded than our British neighbours, with Joseph O'Connor's Ghost Light the most borrowed book, Emma Donoghue's Room in eighth place, Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin in 49th and two Colm Tóibín titles (The Empty Family and Brooklyn) also in the Top 100.

Mind you, 10 of the most popular titles were by children's authors Jeff Kinney and Francesca Simon, but that's an encouraging sign that our embattled libraries are still being visited by people of all ages.

Meanwhile, across the water, PLR figures show that some of the great classic authors – notably George Eliot, Thomas Hardy and Rudyard Kipling – are less popular with borrowers than they used to be, while those authors who have been adapted for television are more favoured – not just Jane Austen and Charles Dickens but also Elizabeth Gaskell, whose Cranford was a big hit on TV five years ago.

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