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The sound of a prize revving

The sound of a prize revving

Things move fast in the Man Booker world. Less than two months after the announcement of Han Kang as the winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2016, the red velvet cloth that has been covering the judges for next year’s prize has been whipped off and the newly revealed panel can take a bow. The chuffed but daunted five are Nick Barley (chairman), Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival; the translator Daniel Hahn; the poet Helen Mort; Elif Shafak, the Turkish author and academic; and the Nigerian-born writer Chika Unigwe. That’s quite a spread of nationalities and experiences. It is hard to imagine another panel that can boast Pelé’s translator (Hahn), a literary-architectural aficionado who has commissioned work for the Venice Biennale (Barley), a five times Foyle’s Young Poet of the Year winner (Mort), a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Shafak – and shouldn’t that be a ‘Chevaleresse’?), and an African turned American (Unigwe). For good measure, Hahn is familiar with the Man Booker International juggernaut, having been the translator for José Eduardo Agualusa’s A General Theory of Oblivion, which was just pipped to this year’s prize. For those with an unnatural fixation with diaries the judges will announce their ‘Man Booker Dozen’ of 12 or 13 longlisted books in March 2017, and the shortlist of six books in April. The coronation of the winner will take place in May 2017.

Deborah Smith, winning translator of The Vegetarian, famously learnt Korean in a mere three years. Quite some achievement. And she might not be finished with languages yet. She was recently asked which other language she would like to learn to translate its books, and responded ‘Vietnamese’. Why? ‘At the moment, there are almost no Vietnamese translations, published in the UK at least,’ she noted. ‘It is relatively little known. And it’s a country that has modernised a lot recently, developed a lot.’ So that’s the official line. And the real reason? ‘I like the food.’

Sarah Waters, the multiple Man Booker shortlistee and serial prize-winner, has another accolade to put on her overflowing mantelpiece. She is just about to receive an honorary fellowship from Goldsmith’s, University of London, in recognition of her ‘inspiring’ literary career. Waters’s academic career has been a peripatetic one: she studied for a BA (in English Literature) at the University of Kent, for her MA at the University of Lancaster, and her PhD at Queen Mary, University of London. So next, if there’s any justice in the world, the provostship of an Oxbridge College should come next.

With David Bellos’s fascinating research about the geographical origins of the Man Booker International entries revealing that the majority were of European origin, Canada has hit back. Admittedly its two main languages - English and French - are both European but there’s the small matter of 5,000 kilometres of sea in between. A Canadian website, fed up with the fact that ‘In literature, as in almost any other category, Canadian voices often get lumped in with those from the US’, has come up with a list of 13 Canadian novelists everyone should read. Top of the pile are two Man Booker heroines: Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro. Quite right too. The same article reveals/reminds the little-known, but useful-in-a-pub-quiz fact that Anne of Green Gables is a Canadian novel (published in 1908 and written by Lucy Maud Montgomery).