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Hotel du Lac remembered

Hotel du Lac remembered

In 1984, Anita Brookner, who died in March, won the then plain Booker Prize with Hotel du Lac. Among the novelists she pipped to the post were Julian Barnes and Penelope Lively, both of whom were at a memorial event at the Courtauld Institute in London this week to celebrate her life. The presence of such literary heavy hitters (as well as her editors Liz Calder from Jonathan Cape and Juliet Annan from Penguin, and her friend Carmen Callil) was matched by colleagues from her art historical career – Saint Neil MacGregor, formerly of the British Museum, gave an encomium; Nicholas Serota, head honcho of the Tates was there; as were the current directors of the National Gallery and the Royal Academy. As Julian Barnes noted in his tribute – having wryly thanked a previous speaker for reminding the audience that he lost out to Brookner in 1984 – she was a late starter as a novelist who arrived 'fully formed'. Calder recalled asking Brookner after her Booker win what she was going to do with the prize money. Brookner's response was that: 'I'm going to get me shoes re-soled, that should keep my feet in the ground.' Indeed, as her agent Bill Hamilton (who also happens to be Hilary Mantel's agent) remembered, she was no diva. Brookner would arrive unannounced at his offices every year, he said, carrying a new manuscript in a Sainsbury's plastic carrier bag and hand it over with the words: 'Here you are Bill, I suspect it's a bit of a dud.'

A good week for David Szalay, a shortlistee for this year's Man Booker. He has just won the £5,000 Gordon Burn Prize, named after the polymathic and genre-ignoring author, and saw off the challenge a fellow shortlistee, Ottessa Moshfegh, in the process. One of the judges was Rachel Cooke, who was on the panel that awarded the 2010 'Lost Man Booker Prize' to J.G. Farrell's Troubles. She said of Szalay's win: 'Judging prizes is never easy. But this was fairly straightforward in the end. David's book just seemed to float off into its own orbit.' In less than two weeks time when the Man Booker winner is announced we will see whether the gravitational force of Szalay's orbit managed to pull in those judges too.

Don't feel too sorry for Moshfegh; she has some serious validation of her own. Her Man Booker novel Eileen is being touted by the great American humourist David Sedaris. Every time Sedaris goes on tour – he does hugely popular 'An evening with . . .' events up and down America – he recommends a different book to his audience. This time it is Moshfegh who has drawn his approbation and he devotes a section of each event to discussing the book. Sedaris's current 'Fall Tour' takes in 40 venues, so that's the sort of publicity money can't buy. No offence to the Man Booker shortlistees but the titles of their novels have some way to go before they match up to that of Sedaris's most recent book, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. It's sort of catchy.

Your starter for 10, a literary teaser . . . name another writer with as complicated a relationship to nationality and nationhood as Madeleine Thien, one of this year's shortlistees with Do Not Say We Have Nothing. Thien's mother was from Hong Kong while her father is Hakka, ethnically Chinese but born in Malaysia, and her parents met as students in Australia. They settled first in Malaysia before emigrating to Vancouver in 1974 (to open a Chinese-Canadian diner, 'which would serve chop suey plus bacon and egg sandwiches') and Thien was born in Canada. She later married a Dutchman and lived in the Netherlands. She also taught at the City University of Hong Kong. She now lives back in Canada, in Montreal, with the Lebanese novelist Rawi Hage. A case, perhaps, of do not say we have nothing to write about.

The new Man Booker podcast is out now. The last in the series will be available on 28 October and include an interview with the winner.