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Novel politicos

Novel politicos

One of the more intriguing events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which runs in August, is the pairing of the 1997 Man Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Roy, of course, is no slouch herself on the politics front and indeed her fiction writing took a 20-year back seat to her involvement in major Indian issues, from the building of dams, to the status of Kashmir and the policies of Narendra Modi. It will be interesting to hear Sturgeon interview the author/activist and see how much time they spend on the finer points of fiction and how much on more contentious issues. Maybe the interview could start a trend: Arlene Foster interviewing Anna Burns, perhaps, or Trump interviewing Paul Beatty, or Netanyahu interviewing David Grossman. Of course, as things stand, there is no British Prime Minister to interview anyone.


A fistful of other Booker Prize authors will also be appearing at the festival, including the former winners Thomas Keneally, Roddy Doyle and Salman Rushdie (who will launch his new novel Quichotte there); former shortlistees such as Ali Smith and Colson Whitehead; the current Man Booker International Prize winner Jokha Alharthi and former shortlistees Annie Ernaux and Mathias Énard; a former chair of MB judges in Robert Macfarlane and one of last year’s judges Val McDermid. You are never more than six yards away from a Bookerite it seems.


Meanwhile, various other Booker notables have a visit to Buckingham Palace rather than Edinburgh on their minds. The recent Queen’s Birthday Honours list had a literary flavour: Betanny Hughes, fresh from chairing this year’s MBI, was awarded an OBE for services to history (though the Booker judges all deserve gongs for  working their way through upwards of 140 submissions); Sarah Waters, a serial Booker shortlistee, was also awarded an OBE, for services to literature (she confesses to being “delighted and a little bit dazed” by the news); while the composer Joanna MacGregor, one of this year’s Booker Prize judges, will raise her head from the page just long enough to pick up her CBE.


The Booker also has its dabs all over the Orwell prizes for political writing. Anna Burns and Nick Drnaso, from the class of 2018, are both nominated for the fiction award (one of the judges is Sam Leith, a role he fulfilled for the MB in 2015); while Jason Cowley, editor of the New Statesman and an MB judge back in 1997 (when Arundhati Roy won with The God of Small Things), has been nominated for the journalism award. That’s the thing about the best fiction; there’s no part of human existence it doesn’t reach.


This, of course, extends to the bedroom too. Sarah Hall, MB longlisted in 2009 and a judge in 2017, has been turning her mind to all things erotic as a mentoring writer at “I’ll Show You Mine”, a symposium of sex writing that was recently held in a medieval hall in Norwich. The consensus seemed to be that women are better at writing sex scenes than men both because women have more experience of fantasy life and because men are afraid of being nominated for the Bad Sex Award – a fear that makes them write badly. Hall (apologies in advance, trigger warning etc) counted scores of “he took her from behinds” in men’s novels when she judged the MB prize.