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The Booker Prize bounce, doubled

The Booker Prize bounce, doubled

So, for all the fuss, the Booker Prize does what the Booker Prize always does. The prize winner always receives a massive sales boost following their victory and this is just what has happened to Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other. The 2019 joint winner more than doubled its lifetime sales in the five days following the win, selling 5,980 copies, a not-to-be-sniffed-at 1,340 per cent surge in sales week on week. In its previous five months on sale, the novel had sold 4,391 copies. Such has been the demand that many bookshops, perhaps taken unawares, have run out of copies. So Evaristo’s publisher, Hamish Hamilton, has pressed the button on a whopping 90,000-copy reprint of the novel and noted “the outpouring of love and support from booksellers all over the country” that it has received. Make that from readers too. The other winner, Margaret Atwood with The Testaments, has not done too badly either. In the week following the prize announcement it sold 13,400 copies, a tidy top-up to its lifetime sales of 191,108. To put these astronomical figures into perspective, the novel was only published in September.

Still with numbers, in an interview with the New Statesman shortly after her win, Evaristo explained that the 12 female black characters in her novel are just a fraction of what she first intended. She first envisaged “a thousand, actually. I was so frustrated that we were not peopling the pages of fiction in this country that I just thought, ‘I’m going to create as many different characters as I can.’ But in the end I thought I had in a sense made my point with 12 of these women.” Probably a wise decision.

In a thoughtful essay about the increased visibility of black writing, Evaristo pointed out that a chunk of it has come about courtesy of social media. It has been a long battle for many black writers, she says, and it is not to be taken for granted, but “I wonder what my generation might have achieved had social media been around when we were in our 20s. How would our lives have been enriched by the rapid interconnectivity of today?” She sees her Booker Prize win as the first black woman as part of a long campaign for visibility: “Many of us have campaigned to improve access to publishing and the arts industry for people of colour for decades, and we are finally seeing the results.”

She may not have won The Booker Prize, yet, but Sarah Waters has just picked up a pretty noble gong of her own. The three-time shortlistee was at Buckingham Palace last week to receive her OBE from the Duke of Cambridge for services to literature. Waters admitted to being “a little bit dazed” by the honour: “Writing is, by its nature, a very solitary pursuit: you spend most of your time as an author hidden away. So to receive this kind of very public honour is a huge thrill.” Asked what she and the Duke chatted about when he was pinning on her rather fetching OBE cross and pink ribbon Waters, putting herself at risk of a stay in the Tower of London, fessed that “The Duke admitted to not being a book reader but said his father had recently introduced him to audio books.” Should he need further advice, his stepmother, is of course a great Booker Prize patron.