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The Bookerites who shaped the world

The Bookerites who shaped the world

The BBC has just released a list of “the 100 novels that shaped our world”. A whopper of a claim but good on the Beeb for giving some lit crit distraction in these election-overloaded times. Needless to say, Booker Prize authors are there in force. The selectors break the 100 books into sections: Sebastian Barry, Arundhati Roy and Zadie Smith all feature under “Identity”; Elif Shafak and Jeanette Winterson appear under “Love, Sex and Romance” (alongside Jane Austen); Kevin Barry features under “Adventure”; Ben Okri under “Life, Death and Other Worlds”; Kamila Shamsie, William Golding and Carol Shields are filed under “Politics, Power and Protest”; V.S. Naipaul, Muriel Spark, Kazuo Ishiguro and J.M. Coetzee fall into the “Class and Society” bracket; Margaret Atwood and Edna O’Brien are “Coming of Age”; Tim Winton is filed under “Family and Friendship”; Pat Barker and Mohsin Hamid are filed under “Crime and Conflict”; Ali Smith, Angela Carter and Salman Rushdie are “Rule Breakers”. So nearly a quarter of the most influential novels of all time come from Booker Prize authors. So much for the idea that the quality of books is a subjective decision.

Elena Ferrante, Man Booker International Prize shortlisted in 2016, is a phenomenon as well as a novelist. Partly because her mystique has been burnished by her decision to remain anonymous, Ferrante fever breaks out periodically, and now is one of those moments. The Lying Life of Adults, her first novel for four years, has just been published in Italy and put her fans, who were on tenterhooks, out of their misery. The book is set in Naples in the 1990s and is centred on the moment when a young girl hears her father describe her as “very ugly” in the course of an argument with her mother. Such was the anticipation that reading sessions were arranged for the very second of publication in cities including Turin, Rome, Milan and Naples. Unfortunately, for non-Italian readers, the English translation is not due until June 2020.

Anticipation is building too around the television adaptation of Sally Rooney’s 2018 Man Booker Prize longlisted Normal People. Filming for the 12-part BBC adaptation has been going on since May and the series is due to air in early 2020. For Rooney fans who are struggling with the wait, the BBC has released some shots of the two leads, Daisy Edgar-Jones as Marianne and Paul Mescal as Connell. It’s not much but it might ease the pain a little.

Marlon James, Man Booker Prize winner in 2015, takes his fearlessness beyond his writing. Speaking to the Guardian recently, he explained his penchant for wearing a tunic-cum-dress (“It’s really a tunic, but I like pissing people off by calling it a dress”). This not-so-little black number makes him “look like a monk. . . a black Rasputin”. He’s worn it at assorted swanky events and volunteered, somewhat alarmingly, “I’m not saying I go commando – but it’s a bit like the rule with kilts: wearing pants with this would be a cop-out.” Luckily perhaps, this is not his regular day wear. Not that he lets his sartorial standards slip: “I always dress up to write – let’s call it ‘expensive casual’. One thing I do not do is put on slippers and a bathrobe or pyjamas because when I go to write, I go to work.”

Jeet Thayil, Man Booker Prize shortlisted in 2012 for Narcopolis and 2020 International Booker Prize judge, recently had some sharp words to say about the idea of “writer’s block”:  “I never face a writer’s block, I think it is an excuse that writers use when they are feeling lazy,” he said. “I think it is a great thing to tell non-writers. The only people who believe this kind of lie, this great fiction are non-writers. How come there is no carpenter’s block, how come there is no tailor’s block?” Maybe writing just comes easy to him. If so, he was not having any of it: “Writing is a profession, you turn up every day at your desk and you get to work. That’s all there is to it. Don’t mystify it, don’t romanticise, don’t fictionalise it, don’t come up with stories like writer’s block.” And certainly don’t mention it in front of Mr Thayil.