Tuesday, 21 May 2013

A Night at the International Man Booker Prize

The biannual international Booker is a very different beast to the normal domestic kind. It is not awarded for a single book, but for a  body of work. By its nature the writers are coming from a far broader range of cultures and clearly English is not necessarily their first language. And to this member of the audience they were pretty uniformly unfamiliar.

When the normal Booker short list comes out there is a straight forward game spotting the heavy hitters and the glad to be there group. Most of the names i will recognise and some of the books I might have even read. No such baggage of familiarity came with me tonight. Apart from some short notes on each provided in a cheery green pamphlet my ignorance of their work at the start of the night was complete.

The diversity issue is an interesting challenge. The problem of how does one weigh up Will Self against Hilary Mantel becomes more extreme when comparing a Chinese novelist and a North American best known for short stories. The judges will of course have read the work in detail. This ignorant audience member was far less well equipped.  It is to the credit of the Booker that  it has not become 'The World's Got Talent', allowing the audience to appraise the life's work of an octogenarian holocaust survivor on the basis of a 5 min reading.   However, lets be honest, that is exactly what I and I suspect plenty of others were doing. 

Lydia Davis and Josip Novakovich were easy crowd pleasers, with clever funny pieces written and read in English. For those either absent or having their work read in translation they were at the mercy of actors reading on their behalf. The reading of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead was gentle but moving. Marie NDiaye was less lucky. Her own soft French was ill served by the English reading. An actor clearly well equipped for belting out Shakespeare banged and crashed when she should have let it flow.

The non European non American writers work was through no fault of their own harder to get the measure  of in such a brief reading. The sound of U R Ananthamurthy reading in his own Kannada language was an amazing sound though.

My favourite and the one that I will certainly pursue further was the Russian Vladimir Sorokin. His strange and vivid story is the one that has stayed with me, and made me want to find more.
The prize is awarded tomorrow, and good luck to whoever gets it.

After the readings we had dinner at Canteen under the Royal Festival Hall. Smoked Haddock and Sauvignon blanc.

Lovely evening.