Last night Julian Barnes won the 2011 Man Booker Prize for his novel, The Sense of an Ending. My review of this novel can be found in Recent, on this site. On the same page are other reviews, notably of Daniel Kehlmann’s Fame and Emmanuel Carrère’s A Russian Novel. Neither of these was eligible for the Man Booker, nor would they ever be, as they are translations from other languages. I read none of the other five books on the Man Booker shortlist, so I’ve no idea if the Barnes novel was the best of them, or merely (as some have claimed) the best of a bad lot. All I know is that having read Kehlmann, Carrère and Barnes at more or less the same time, the Barnes came last, having been lapped several times by the others. If his unoriginal, unimaginative and facile novel represents the best of fiction in the English-speaking world (excluding the USA, of course), then these are dire times indeed for the English novel. They are in fact not, but to judge by the panel’s inexpert choices this year (not to mention their embarrassing and philistine comments in response to criticisms such as this one) they would not know that.
From the Booker website, I discovered this information about the sponsoring company: The Man Booker Prize is sponsored by Man Group plc. Man is a world-leading alternative investment management business. It has expertise in a wide range of liquid investment styles including managed futures, equity, credit and convertibles, emerging markets, global macro and multi-manager, combined with powerful product structuring, distribution and client service capabilities. Man manages $71.0 billon. I haven’t the faintest idea what any of that might mean, except I know they can’t spell ‘billion’ correctly. You would think they’d get that right, since it’s the final brag in their self-advertisement.
I have always maintained that the real purpose of literary awards is not to give aid and comfort to authors or publishers, but to make the givers of the awards feel good about themselves. What on Earth is an organization professing expertise in ‘liquid investment styles’, ‘global macro and multi-manager’ and ‘client service capabilities’ doing by interesting itself in literature? What is their motive? Must be a tax-break in there somewhere.
The whole thing is secondrate, and the art of literature is diminished by such events.