Battle of the Book Prizes

September 23rd, 2013 by Editor Leave a reply »

It was announced this week that, as of 2014, American authors will be eligible for the Man Booker Prize. Up until now the prize has been open only to authors holding a British, Irish, Commonwealth or Zimbabwean passport; it will now be open to any author writing in English and published in the UK.

The submission rules have also been amended, allowing more entries to publishers that have previously had books longlisted.

The decision had been met with a mixed reaction. Previous winner Howard Jacobson spoke out against it, as did one of this year’s nominees, Jim Crace, who commented in the Telegraph that “There’s something in there you would lose if you opened it up to American authors.”

It has been argued that opposition to the decision presented by authors comes from a place of fear, and that by allowing some American authors into the mix will shine a light on those complacent English novelists whose writing is diminishing in quality but are still managing to find their way onto the list. There certainly have been those who have bemoaned a decline in the Booker winners in recent years, and perhaps not without cause. Julian Barnes’ brevity in The Sense of an Ending, for which he won the prize in 2011 felt like a false economy. He is a great writer, but it’s not a great book.

But this seems to beg the question as to who these changes will actually benefit. Is the pressure from across the pond going to make our authors write better books? It seems an unlikely source of inspiration. Is it going to help readers in the U.K. pick the best new American fiction? We already have the Pulitzer to tell us that.

One party that it will certainly benefit is the Booker Prize itself. Jonathon Taylor, chairman of trustees, said: “By including writers from around the world to compete alongside Commonwealth and Irish writers, the Man Booker Prize is reinforcing its standing as the most important literary award in the English-speaking world.”

Well bully for them. This comment shows that something greater is at stake. It seems that the competition is not to find the best book, but the best prize. And the Booker is determined to win.

SF

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