Julian Barnes Wins The Man Booker Prize Amidst Bookish "Readability" Controversy

Sense of An Ending

Via The Austrailian:

Usually a bridesmaid, eventually a bride: after previously making the shortlist three times, English novelist Julian Barnes finally takes home the coveted Man Booker Prize for The Sense of An Ending. If you've never heard of it, here's a synopsis that should begin to give you a sense:

From the publisher:

This intense new novel follows a middle-aged man as he contends with a past he has never much thought about—until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance, one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony Webster thought he’d left all this behind as he built a life for himself, and by now his marriage and family and career have fallen into an amicable divorce and retirement. But he is then presented with a mysterious legacy that obliges him to reconsider a variety of things he thought he’d understood all along, and to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.

The choice seems to have silenced the indignant "harumphs!" of the literary elite, who objected to the controversial appointment of former MI-5 Chief and current spy novelist, Stella Rimington, as head of the judges panel. Once installed, Rimington promptly announced that "readability" would factor greatly into choosing the winner, which did not sit well with the intelligentsia.

In response to this, last year's judge, poet Andrew Motion, decried the creation of a "false divide" between the literary and the accessible. Novelist Jeanette Winterson wrote a piece in The Guardian comparing good literature to mathematics, which frankly isn't going to encourage anyone to read. Due to earlier controversies involving Philip Roth and the International Booker, one anonymous commenter dubbed the whole fiasco Booker's annus horribilis (which means "horrible asshole" in Latin.)

Not that any of this has hurt the Booker or any of its shortlisted authors. There is no such thing as bad publicity, and this has been one of the most publicized years in Booker history, despite allegations of an uncharacteristically weak crop of books.

The rest of the shortlist:

Carol Birch - Jamrach's Menagerie
Patrick deWitt - The Sisters Brothers
Esi Edugyan - Half Blood Blues
Stephen Kelman - Pigeon English
A D Miller - Snowdrops

Image of The Sense of an Ending (Borzoi Books)
Author: Julian Barnes
Price:
Publisher: Knopf (2011)
Binding: Hardcover, 163 pages
Jacey Cockrobin

News by Joshua Chaplinsky

Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor of LitReactor.com. He has also written for the popular film site Screen Anarchy and for ChuckPalahniuk.net, the official website of 'Fight Club' author Chuck Palahniuk. He is the author of 'Kanye West—Reanimator.' His short fiction has appeared in Zetetic, Motherboard, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Thuglit, Dark Moon Digest, Pantheon Magazine, and multiple print anthologies. More info at joshuachaplinsky.com.

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Comments

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words October 19, 2011 - 11:31am

I haven't read Barnes in some time, this is a good excuse to do so.

I recall the kafuffle over James Kelman's Booker winner (1994?) How Late it was  How Late - some objected to the f-bomb fest that permeates the stream-of-consciousness narrative. Most of the critics felt the profanity undermined the literariness or something along those lines.

I agree with the sentiments expressed in one of the discussion threads about difficult books here on litreactor: sometimes the audience needs to educate themselves before delving in to appreciate the depths of the craft - why would the panel award the Booker to something that isn't on some level challenging?

nathaniel parker's picture
nathaniel parker from Cincinnati is reading The Dark Tower ~ King March 4, 2012 - 1:15am

This intense new novel follows a middle-aged man as he contends with a past he has never much thought about—until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance, one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony Webster thought he’d left all this behind as he built a life for himself, and by now his marriage and family and career have fallen into an amicable divorce and retirement. But he is then presented with a mysterious legacy that obliges him to reconsider a variety of things he thought he’d understood all along, and to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.

 

 

Sounds an awful lot like Stephen King's Sometimes They Come Back.