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Why Bernardine is busy

Why Bernardine is busy

Bernardine Evaristo has a big October in the offing. Of course the main event, the Booker Prize winner announcement itself, takes place on the 14th, but she is also in the running for the Gordon Burn Prize, announced just a few days before, on the 10th. The prize is given for books that reflect the writer Gordon Burns’ eclectic tastes, i.e. what might be termed unusual books – “novels which dare to enter history and interrogate the past, and non-fiction adventurous enough to inhabit characters and events in order to create new and vivid realities”. Evaristo has formidable competition as also on the shortlist are Max Porter with Lammy, which was Booker Prize longlisted this year, and the former winner Pat Barker with The Silence of the Girls.

As the clock ticks ever closer to the Booker Prize announcement day, one wonders what the shortlisted authors are doing to keep their mind off the big event. On 11th October, three of the shortlisted authors will be attending the Manchester Literature Festival for an evening of readings and discussions around their new novels. Five of the six shortlistees will then be appearing at the Cheltenham Literary Festival the next day with the prize director Gaby Wood, to talk about all things Booker Prize (and writing). There are then readings at the Southbank Centre in London on the 13th. But these will make the prize loom all the larger. Chigozie Obioma, shortlisted for An Orchestra of Minorities, might have an answer. He has confessed that the book he has never managed to finish (but wants to) is Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. “I have tried to read it twice now,” he says. “It isn’t the book, it is that it is too dense that I often feel I need to find a perfect holiday to read it. But alas, I haven’t found that, yet.” This pre-winner announcement period might be the perfect opportunity to give it a third go.

For those aficionados who like the talk around the Booker Prize as well as the reading, the podcast serves up all sorts of off-the-page titbits. The latest episode for example, hosted by Joe Haddow, features Charles Cave from the band White Lies (well, why not?), as well as interviews with Lucy Ellmann, Bernadine Evaristo and Elif Shafak captured amid the flurry of champagne and canapés at the shortlist party at the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion. That might seem enough for most listeners but there’s more: it also features the launch of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, at the Waterstones flagship store in Piccadilly, including an interview with CEO James Daunt (a member of the Booker Advisory Committee) and Atwood’s midnight reading which gave the waiting world the first taste of her novel. Aural readers should also remember that BBC Radio 4’s Front Row is continuing its series when reader groups get to meet the Booker shortlisted authors. Lucy Ellmann survived her grilling and emerged in one piece, but the other five novelists still have their time in the hot seat to come.

Richard Flanagan, Man Booker winner in 2014 with The Narrow Road to the Deep North, has ridden to the defence of the teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg. After her excoriating speech at the UN she came under fire from various commentators (and one president). Flanagan, a writer with a long history of environmental concerns, was having none of it. Thunberg’s 495-word speech “may well prove to be the climate change movement's Gettysburg Address”, he said. “Thunberg's speech, which took just four-and-a-half minutes to deliver, which, one suspects, will resonate long into the future.” The effects of climate change are already being felt in his native Australia, he said, but entrenched forces now have a battle on their hands: “For power never gives to reason. Power bends only to power. And on Monday a schoolgirl raised the spectre of an opposing power that is now rising around the world.”


The Booker Prize 2019 shortlist party, Serpentine Gallery Pavilion