Thursday, May 20, 2010

Drowned Author Wins 1970 Booker Prize Recount

As usual, the prescient literary taste of E@L has preempted the world's media circus with his assessment of JG Farrell's The Singapore Grip a few weeks ago. Now the author who was washed out to sea while rock-fishing (and who did not commit suicide as some theorized) is not washed up any more, but back as the golden child in the media limelight!

In some chronosynclastically infindibular, time-traveller's wife, and generally inexplicable way, Farrell has just won the 1970 Booker Prize! And deservedly so!

Named The Lost Booker Prize for reasons that will be explained later, the winning novel is Farrell's fourth, Troubles, set in Ireland around the 1920s, during the, umm, troubles. As with The Siege of Krishnapur (Booker winner in 1973) and The Singapore Grip, it is a deeply researched yet intimate and greatly amusing tale.


How prescient is E@L? Get this. One of the guys in the BBC article linked above says:

Hill praised Farrell's "real wit", adding: "He is sharp and intelligent and sometimes laugh out loud funny as well as being thoughtful and interesting."

What E@L said:

Here is a Great Book of the new old-school, teeming with immense human insight and dark humour. And bloody interesting (certainly to me) information about Singapore in the year leading up to the fall of Singapore to the Japanese.

Almost word for word, what?


Why did they give this prize all over again, you ask? E@L certainly did. Surely it had been won already by, umm, Bernice Ruebens, for The Elected Member.

The reason for the re-count is not because who the fuck is Bernice Ruebens; rather it is explained fully on the ManBooker website, with the key paragraph being:

The Lost Man Booker is the brainchild of Peter Straus, the honorary archivist to The Booker Prize Foundation. He realised that in 1971, just two years after it began, the Booker Prize ceased to be awarded retrospectively and became - as it is today - a prize for the best novel of the year of publication. At the same time the award moved from April to November and, as a result, a wealth of fiction published for much of 1970 fell through the net and was never considered for the prize.

The original 1970 shortlist was a quite different from the new one though. The new shortlist, selected by three literary type people born around 1970, from a longlist obviously, was

• The Birds on the Trees by Nina Bawden (Virago)
• Troubles by J G Farrell (Phoenix)
• The Bay of Noon by Shirley Hazzard (Virago)
• Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault (Arrow)
• The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark (Penguin)
• The Vivisector by Patrick White (Vintage)

All great books to be sure, though I've only read two of them.


I'm a bit disappointed that the old Aussie poof Patrick White didn't make more of a showing of it here. (Troubles got 38% of the vote, the next [unnamed] got less than half of that - do the math, children.) Perhaps it is because, while The Vivisector's story of a feted "fictional" Australian artist is an immensely rich and rewarding novel by a terrific writer (White was to win the Nobel Prize in 1973), it is held back (or pushed forward depending on your tastes) by White's characteristic obfuscation of time and place and his poetical and mock-Aussified phraseology. He was at one time criticized for being grammatically, umm, experimental.

E@L's Radiologist boss in Geelong hated White's first novel, The Aunt's Story, because it did not make sense to him - in the exact spots which E@L thought were brilliant. Stick to readin' them Xer-Rays, doc! True, neither is The Vivisector an easy book to read for those who usually look for their mind-numbing reading material at the airport on the shelf next to Clive Cussler and Matthew Riley. Maybe that's why it came nowhere (except onto the shortlist at least.)

Whereas Troubles *should* be at the airport, along with the other Farrell books, because they are all great fun and, compared to White at least if not Cussler, conventional (not a complaint!) in style, grammar and metaphor. This makes them relatively easy to read, while the quality of the writing, the touching and dramatic stories that unfold and the iconic settings still allow you feel you have achieved something grand at the end.



anthony said...

I resemble some of those remarks!!!

expat@large said...

What? You too are an old Aussie poof?

anthony said...

you never actually mentioned that in your post, but no, I resemble it in that I am "sharp and well as being thoughtful and interesting"

expat@large said...

Ho ho. Indeed you are.

Dick Headley said...

Well done E@L! And thank you for keeping the blog going against all odds. I'm about halfway through Krishnapur. Great historical detail and very funny at times. I'm really enjoying it. All because of you!

expat@large said...

DH: Ah yes, Krishnapur, damn fine book... One other thing that they didn't know at the time was that people with AB+ (or is it - ) blood are immune to cholera. The significance of this will become clear to you by the end.

Actually, they didn't know squat about blood types at all in those days so in retrospect, I doubt this information would have useful to them after all.

expat@large said...

Actually I'm wondering if ALL literary prizes should not be awarded until 40 years after publication.

expat@large said...

And Academy Awards... and Eurovision songfest... and elections. Oops that's what's happened in Singapore. We still have the same result over 40 years later.

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