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The waiting game

The waiting game

Pity the poor International Booker prize shortlistees; their wait continues. The six nominees were due to be put out of their misery on 19 May but since a large part of the prize’s raison d’être is to bring the best translated fiction to wider public attention the winner announcement has now been postponed. After all, courtesy of Coronavirus the books are not so available to the reading public so fiction fiends can’t make up their own minds about who deserves to win or rush out to buy the winning title. The announcement will be made later in the summer, C-19 permitting. By then the authors and their translators should either have reached a stage of Nirvanic calm or have turned prematurely grey.

Two of the nominated translators, Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh, who jointly rendered Gabriela Cabezón Cámara’s The Adventures of China Iron into English, have been reflecting on their trade. Mackintosh acknowledges that “It is an ongoing struggle to get the academic world to recognize the creative value of literary translation and the prestige of the International Booker shortlist is something that has a strong impact in this regard.” Both, however, feel that lack of recognition is no longer a problem. As Macintyre notes: “Today there is a very interesting trend that actually accounts for the opposite. There is a hashtag #NameTheTranslator on the networks, translators participate in events at literary festivals, there are awards that recognise the quality of the translation and so on.” While Mackintosh also points out that with increasing numbers of publishers working with foreign fiction “the traditional notion that something is lost by reading translated fiction is finally giving way to the notion that actually, as a reader, you gain through broader access to other cultures.”

Meanwhile, Booker Prize alumni continue to scoop up nominations for other, more specialised prizes. Robert Macfarlane, chair of judges in 2013, for example, has been shortlisted alongside one of last year’s nominees, Elif Shafak, for the RSL Ondaatje Prize. This gong is given to a book that “best evokes the spirit of a place” and Macfarlane’s nature meditation Underland and Shafak’s 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in this Strange World both do that in diametrically opposite ways. The Orwell Prize for Political Fiction has also announced its 13-strong longlist (the number is a Booker Prize homage surely?). A host of Bookerites makes an appearance: Lucy Ellmann, Ali Smith, John Lanchester, Deborah Levy, Colson Whitehead and Bernardine Evaristo. Just for good measure, Elif Shafak does a poacher-turned-gamekeeper routine as a judge on the Orwell Political Writing Prize, a category in which (please keep up. . .) Robert Macfarlane is nominated. The Women’s Prize for Fiction announced their shortlist this week, which also saw some Booker Prize favourites, including 2013 Man Booker Prize judge Natalie Haynes, double Man Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel and 2019 Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo.

The best Booker Prize news of the week, by a country mile, was the item headlined: “Government Coronavirus letter shortlisted for Booker Prize”. It was one of many striking headlines on one particular media website to catch the eye (“‘I’ve got too much petrol’ not a reasonable excuse to drive, say police” and “Banksy’s Mum furious after artist starts working from home”). Unfortunately it needs to be taken with not just a pinch but a bucket of salt, since it appeared not on, say, the BBC news website but on the satirical site Newsbiscuit. But these are strange times so who knows. . .

Still with headlines, the Daily Telegraph awarded Sally Rooney the dubious honour of the following: “‘Sally Rooney writes the best sex scenes’: director Lenny Abrahamson on bringing Normal People to TV”. One suspects Rooney might prefer to be known for her writing prowess outside the bedroom but the newspaper clearly knows what its readers want as the adaptation of the 2018 Booker Prize longlisted novel is on the verge of airing.