The first win for one of the prize’s hallowed names, J.M. Coetzee, for The Life and Times of Michael K., and a domestic revelation from the chair of judges that one wouldn’t hear today.
Michael K, with a cleft lip and ‘not right in the head’, has to make a long journey carrying his mother and then her ashes through apartheid-era South Africa during a fictional war. Stages of isolation, malnourishment, mistreatment, and escape must be passed through.
Some critics found in Michael K. a resemblance to Josef K. in Franz Kafka’s The Trial. The chair of judges, Fay Weldon, later admitted disarmingly that she was unused to decision making: ‘My husband makes them all.’