I recently heard some curious thoughts on literary prizes from an author who has been both the judge and recipient of major prizes. Her view was that judging often comes down to a straight scrap between two books and that normally the less interesting one wins.
What would this model mean for the 2012 Booker?
Bring Up the Bodies is a sequel and focuses on a very popular period for historical fiction. Umbrella is almost deliberatly challenging to read, with a focus on mental health in a far less romantic setting.
For me these would be the two books fighting it out. My guess is that of the other four writers, three would have been happy just to be on the list.
Is it fair to tag Mantel's as the less interesting book? I would say no, but it is the less interesting winner. As part of a trilogy Bring up the Bodies stands on the shoulders of Wolf Hall. If Wolf Hall had made the shorlist before and not won then this would not be an issue for me. However, if a book is going to be given this massive leg up I would prefer, and it would be more interesting for it to go to different voice. Especially when that voice is Will Self.
Why would there be a bias toward 'less interesting?' My informant's view was that judges subliminally want to pick something that will suit WH Smith and the big retailers. Something that will work well being promoted on the check-out at Tesco. On this count I would suggest that Bring up the Bodies would out gun any of the other candidates. But why would this matter? I don't know but the only conclusion I could reach it that the bigger the splash made my this years winner, the bigger the prestigue of the award next time.
So my guess is that while this years shortlist was exciting, challenging and diverse there was only ever going to be one winner.