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There is no better man than Banville for Nobel Prize

I learn from a profile of John Banville in a Sunday newspaper that the Wexford-born winner of the Man Booker Prize is now being tipped for the Nobel Prize, with Ladbrokes offering odds of 25/1 to anyone who fancies a literary flutter. No better man for this most august of awards -- he's certainly proved his serious intent in a career of writing challenging fiction.

And I learn from other sources that the Nobel is also being whispered in conjunction with the name of Antonio Tabucchi, a 68-year-old Italian writer of whom I'd never heard until recently when I read two ecstatic reviews of his 1994 novel Sostiene Pereira, which is translated into English as 'Pereira Maintains'.

The superlatives were justified. This brief book, which concerns an ageing journalist's awakening conscience amid the growing fascism of late '30s Lisbon, is quite the best novel I've read in a long time. Paced like a thriller, deceptively offhand in tone and featuring a main character of unassuming likeability, it manages without fuss (though with much subtle artistry) to say a lot about loyalty, betrayal, love and loss.

It's published by Canongate in a fine translation by Patrick Creagh and you can read it along with that other haunting masterpiece set in the Lisbon of a slightly earlier time, Fernando Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet.


A week or so ago, a Guardian survey informed us that Marian Keyes is currently among the most influential people in the books industry, and a few days later we're told that the woman's popular novel is on the way out. What's going on?

What's going on apparently is that recent sales of books by Keyes, Jodi Picoult and other high-profile women authors have slumped by more than 20pc compared to previous years.

Novelist Kathy Lette blames the decline on the "second-rate writing" that has flooded the women's market, arguing that "many chick-lit books are just Mills & Boon with Wonderbras and with the heroines waiting to be rescued by a knight in shining Armani".

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