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The Booker beauty pageant

The Booker beauty pageant

Should this year’s Booker longlisted authors wish to while away the time until the shortlist announcement by tormenting themselves, a new bit of analysis gives them the perfect tool. The Times has done some number crunching, looking at which winning novels were also the most popular with the reading public. Some heroic, if by now boggle-eyed statistician, studied 14 million reviews of all the shortlisted novels since the Booker’s inception in 1969 on the website and correlated the shortlist reviews with the winners. It seems that just 10 of the 50 Booker prize winners were also the most popular books on the shortlist with the public – thus confusing the idea of the prize (to choose the best book) with that of a literary beauty pageant. Nevertheless, the data has thrown up some interesting facts. The confluence of most popular book on the shortlist and eventual prize winner has happened only twice this century: in 2012 with Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies and in 2014 with Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North. The most popular of all the winning novels is Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark, 1982, which scored an average 4.34 rating. The real surprise, however, is the identity of the most popular of all the shortlisted novels. Gold star if you got it: Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, 1996, which had an average score of 4.36 based on more than 125,000 reviews.


One of this year’s longlistees, Jeanette Winterson, has been discussing the fact that, decades after she arrived noisily on the literary scene, she has only now been recognised by the prize. “It’s not being superior,” she told an interviewer, “it’s just that sometimes you have to wait for people to catch up.” Now that the prize judges have caught up, Frankissstein, an interlinking of Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein in 1816 and a modern story of artificial intelligence, cryogenics and sexbots, is one of the most fancied books on the longlist. Times have changed for the better in other ways too: “Literature used to be very much a white male club but it isn’t now,” she reckons. “There’s a diversity of voices and as a working-class woman I’ve been part of that. In the acting profession they’re always complaining that posh, public schoolboys are in the ascendancy. I no longer see that in books.”


Not sure if this qualifies as news or not but, apparently the reigning Man Booker champ, Milkman by Anna Burns, is the subject of a film rights conversation. According to The Bookseller, Burns “is in the process of negotiating a film deal” but then continues by quoting her agent, David Grossman, and her publisher, Faber & Faber, as saying that there was nothing to currently report on the deal. Oh the suspense. . .


A new line of argument about the prize was put forward this week. The Indian critic Sanjay Sipahimalani wrote, regarding the longlist, that while the literary world has “separate awards for women, for science fiction, for the best translated work, for the entire body of an author’s work, and more” it is the Booker that “is more wide ranging, almost universal. That’s why this year’s varied longlist is more important than the eventual winner itself.” Why’s that? Because “Each title represents a facet of general fiction in English and, taken as a whole, forms a prism that displays its state today, for better or for worse.” There’s plenty of truth in this observation but try telling Anna Burns, who used her prize money to cure both an ailing back and her need for food banks, or DBC Pierre, who used his prize money to pay off his many creditors, that the longlisting was the most important part of their Man Booker Prize experience.