East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Lit prize handicapping

The Booker:
The Booker usually has a good shortlist, from which the worst book is named as the winner. I've taken a look at all this year's shortlist, except for Hisham Matar's In the Company of Men. The two I've got through are Sarah Waters's The Night Watch and Kate Grenville's The Secret River. I hope to say more about the Waters later; for now let's just say that she deserves the gong, not least because Fingersmith wuz robbed in 2002. The Secret River is a fun read (high B+ish), and there's no shame in its nomination, but it does seem a little slight for a winner: all the old themes are there (Aborigines good, colonialism bad) but none of it's unprecedented. I also hope to finish Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss, but I suspect I might shelve it for something a little more gripping.

That leaves two books that play on one of my pet peeves, the impossibly aware child. At least MJ Hyland's Carry Me Down tries to turn the tyke's consciousness into a conceit, but that book ran foul of one of my more reasonable by-laws: if more than one household pet dies violently in the first fifty pages, I stop reading. (This is the second time I've had to enforce this rule this year, after Magda Szabo's The Door.) Edward St Aubyn's Mother's Milk is just annoying, with oh-so-clever dialogue that sounds nothing like the speech of anyone I know (and if you ever hear someone say "Oh dear, do I detect marital conflict?", punch them for me.) It'll probably win.

The Nobel:
Favourite is Orhan Pamuk, who would certainly be a good choice. The smart money is on Polish journo Ryszard Kapuściński -- the little I've read of him is excellent. This year pundits are seriously mentioning Murakami for the first time, but he might be a decade away yet. I repeat my assertions that American authors are strongly discriminated against by the Nobel committee, and that they should gong Roth (possible) or Ashbery (not bloody likely) -- nothing against Joyce Carol Oates, but not Joyce Carol Oates.

The NBAs:
No one's been to pick the National Book Award fiction finalists since they went wacky in 2002. Still: Kathryn Davis, The Thin Place; Claire Messud, The Emperor's Children; Alice McDermott, After This; Deorah Eisenberg, Twilight of the Superheroes.


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