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Atwood wells up

Atwood wells up

As Margaret Atwood has said more than once, at 79 and with a lifetime of achievement under her belt, she doesn’t need more fame or recognition. She has made a couple of exceptions though. She graciously shared this year’s Booker Prize and last week accepted a gong from the Queen. Atwood was already ennobled in the eyes of the literary world, and now she has a Companion of Honour to her name. Meeting the Queen left her, she said, feeling “a bit emotional”. The CoH was instituted by George V in 1917 as a special award for those who have made a major contribution to the arts, science, medicine, or government. The honour, said Atwood, meant: “You're really looking at a lot of history and I'm old enough to remember a lot of that history.” What’s more there are only 65 Companions at any one time. There is, however, just one Margaret Atwood.

An unlikely link exists, it seems, between Bernardine Evaristo’s joint Booker Prize winning Girl, Woman, Other and television series such as American Horror Story and True Detective. It is hard to see what Evaristo’s 12 linked(ish) tales of black women might have to do with demonic ghosts and murders but suggestions have already been made that her book would make perfect television fare in the form of “the much-vaunted anthology series”. One commentator noted that the book’s “12 narrators are approximately 11 more than tends to work on TV. Not to be overlooked is the fact that Evaristo’s 12 protagonists run the gamut of race, gender identity, sexuality, and socioeconomic status, something that TV still struggles to reconcile”. Nevertheless, an adaptation would not only bring together a dozen different actors of diverse backgrounds but a series of stories that “overflow with irrepressible humanity”.

In the run-up to Halloween, Oyinkan Braithwaite, Booker Prize longlisted this year for My Sister the Serial Killer, went to the Wellcome Collection – a huge repository of artefacts related to the human body and its health (and otherwise) to choose an object that “spoke” to her for a project commissioned by the collection, Homeless Bodies and Other Stories. Butter-wouldn’t-melt Braithwaite picked a “scold’s bridle” made in Brussels in the 14th-century. A scold’s bridle is an iron mask/helmet meant to punish and control shrill, gossipy or troublesome women. What was behind her bizarre choice? “The scold’s bridle is an instrument of punishment, torture and public humiliation, peculiarly created for the purpose of correcting the shrew-like behaviour of women; in other words, the perfect gift for a writer who is fascinated with women who misbehave.” Some scold’s bridles used to have a spike that went into the unfortunate woman’s mouth, this particular one didn’t. But, said Braithwaite, she nevertheless “decided to keep that detail”.

In 2005, the Albanian novelist and poet Ismail Kadare was awarded the inaugural Man Booker International Prize, in those days given for a body of work rather than a single book. Now, nearly 15 years later, he has just become the 26th laureate of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, sometimes known as the American Nobel. It is a prize that recognises outstanding literary merit in literature worldwide and is open to poets, novelists and playwrights. Along with the honour, Kadare receives a rather useful $50,000 and a rather more decorative replica of an eagle feather cast in silver. Kadare moved to France in 1990 seeking political asylum so his silver feather will no doubt look handsome on his Parisian mantelpiece.

A novel initiative has started in Manchester featuring the taxi service Uber and the audiobook makers Audible. Uber found that Manchester’s commuters were particularly stressed and spent more time on their phones during rides than reading, so, with Audible, they have come up with an offer of seven audiobooks available via the Uber app to help those journeys pass. One of them is by the Booker Prize’s youngest-ever shortlistee, Daisy Johnson. In summary, her tale, A Retelling, describes what happens “when a strange, wild woman arrives, unexpected, at the author's house the lines between fact and fiction begin to blur”. Worth driving around in circles for.