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Julian Barnes is rubbish, says Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes is rubbish, says Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes, Man Booker Prize winner in 2011, recently recalled the agonies surrounding the publication of his first novel, Metroland, in 1980. After a long and painful gestation, involving much rewriting, the book was published and Barnes prepared himself for the reviews. He came up with a highly unusual method for girding his loins and facing what he was convinced would be negative notices: he wrote a hatchet-job of his own book. The review, by ‘Mack the Knife’, pulled no punches  and ‘appeared’ in the Daily Sniveller. It began: ‘Once upon a time there was a creature called the sensitive young man. Often he was awarded capital letters, thus: the Sensitive Young Man . . . He wrote novels not because he had anything to say, but because he wanted to be a novelist. Being a novelist was, he thought, a fine thing.’ It went on to diss the book properly: ‘A smattering of French cannot conceal the poverty of the author’s imagination, and the novel’s brevity is, alas, no guarantee against tedium’. Barnes’s idea was that if any reviewer picked up the same faults as the fictional ‘Mack the Knife’ he would give up writing fiction. Needless to say none did and so began Barnes’s literary career when it might have been strangled at birth.

Proof of the Man Booker Prize’s potency comes from the data surrounding sales of the shortlisted books. According to Sara Hunt, Graeme Macrae Burnet’s publisher at the small Scottish imprint Contraband, the first reprint of 15,000 copies ‘didn’t last long’ and orders in the tens of thousands are now coming in from around the world. Contraband, with a full-time staff of two, is now number one in the Bookseller’s list for small publishers. His Bloody Project is currently leading the shortlist sales race, shifting a third more copies than the next book, Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk.

The shortlist for the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize, Canada’s premier literary award, has just been announced. Emma Donoghue, an Man Booker Prize shortlistee in 2010, is on the list and so is one of this year’s crop, Madeleine Thien, with Do Not Say We Have Nothing. The prize is worth a hefty $100,000 and the winner is announced on 7th November, a mere fortnight after the Man Booker announcement on 25th October. So does Thien daydream of a single victory or go big and dream of the double? Decisions, decisions.

Thien’s problem is one shared by Deborah Levy. She has just been nominated on the £10,000 New Statesman-Goldsmiths Prize for innovative fiction. She though has to wait a little longer than Thien to hear her fate, until 9th November.

At least Margaret Atwood doesn’t need to go through the hoops of agony, excitement, expectation and worry. She has already been named as the recipient of the PEN Pinter Prize 2016 and will pick up her gong at a public event at the British Library on Thursday 13 October. Atwood will deliver an address while Elizabeth McGovern – last seen polishing her vowels in Downton Abbey – will read from The Handmaid’s Tale. If that’s not enough to send a flurry of fans to the ticket desk there’s more . . .  Erica Wagner, a Man Booker Prize judge in 2014, will deliver an encomium and guests will also receive a specially published booklet covering the event. Truly, Margaret Atwood is the gift that keeps on giving.