Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Prizes, literature and language

Wonderful article in today's Guardian by the ever-inspirational Jeanette Winterson, on the recent Booker debate. Here are the bits I love: 'Novels that last are language-based novels - the language is not simply a means of telling a story, it is the whole creation of the story.' Like Maths, she says, literature is another kind of language, not 'obscure or rarified precious - that's no test of a book - rather it is operating on a different level to our everyday exchanges of information and conversation ...There is such a thing as art and there is such a thing as literature.' And she doesn't mince her words: 'I did try to read Stella Rimington's own spy series, but ... began to wonder if we would choose an enthusiastic member of a painting-by-numbers club to judge the Turner prize.'

But don't rely on my cherry-picking, go and read the whole article if you haven't already.

Last night - before coming back to Rimington's extraordinary Booker speech, in which she spent most of the time defending herself and her fellow judges from criticism, dissed those who had offered their own choices, and failed to follow what I remember as a tradition of using the moment to give some limelight to each of the shortlisted books - I attended a very interesting Manchester Lit Fest debate on Prize Culture by staff of the Manchester University Centre for New Writing. I took notes and I'll write them up here if I get time later today.


Dan Holloway said...

I shall savour this. I love anything Jeanette Winterson does - her articles are the best things to be found in the press. I will confess to feeling that giving the Booker to Barnes was about the only way the judges could have made the whole sorry fiasco worse. Whatever one thinks of their comments, it makes everything they have said up to now feel like tokenism, and if they like the Barnes so much more than the others it makes the omissions from lists long and short even more boggling - which leads one to the inevitable conclusion they saw this as the only way to back-pedal themselves out of a corner, and being seen to respond to outcry is the one way to look even worse than doing the thing that caused the outcry in the first place! I wonder if they're being lined up to take over the Poetry Society...

Elizabeth Baines said...

Ha! My own thoughts exactly re back-pedalling.

Yup, Winterson's the one.

Mike French said...

I found the speech leading up to giving Barnes the prize absurd. It was defensive, boring and missed a chance, as it was being shown live on TV, to champion books and generate an appetite in people for reading great books.

I mean for goodness sake anybody tuning in to watch must have gone away thinking the book world is full of dry, boring, introspective dinosaurs. What a wasted opportunity.

Having said that it was wonderful to see Barnes finally take the stage - just a shame his wife didn't live long enough to see it.

Hayley N. Jones said...

I think I love Jeanette Winterson even more now :-)