Man Booker Prize 2011

Over years, quality of fiction may have gone down a bit. There are few equivalents of Rabindranath Tagore, George Orwell and Tolstoy. But the quality of awards surely have nosedived. The Observer, writing in its editorial two days ago wonders if ‘James Joyce have ever made the Man Booker shortlist?’ We all know that its NO! If wonders ‘if the current crop of judges had anything to do with it.’ May be one would have expected ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man‘ to be on the list, but ‘Ulysses? Not a chance’. Observer laments that ‘Readability is the watchword of this year’s panel‘.

Why there is such a decline? If the awards the reflecting the taste of consumer then one wonders if taste of generation have gone down? Often tastes of generation changes dramatically. A novel Lolita, banned by one generation was awarded Nobel Prize by the next. So a generation dirt could become next generation art! But how about changes during a generation. Why like of Dan Brown and Paulo Coelho replace Orhan Pamuk or R K Narayanan?

Guardian thinks that, ‘maybe it says something about our culture that it has become strangely unfashionable to suggest that great novels shouldn’t only be a quick fix, another consumer experience, that they should make us work and reward us for our effort by staying with us, leaving a bit of intellectual and emotional residue.‘ Well, lover of Chetan Bhagat and his ilk have always argued on these lines.

For ordinary ‘people like us’ its hard to understand the difference between mediocrity and genius. In fact, when I was 18, Dan Brown tasted much better than R K Narayanan. Today, it is not possible for me to say confidently why ‘The White Tiger’ has to win over ‘Sea of Poppies’ in 2008. Both tasted equally good to me. And their critics did not make much sense to me either. But one fact about Booker I can surely question, why a MI5-cop, a politician and two journalists have to be on the jury while the best of literary figures, well suited to recognise and award their peers, are available? After all, award is the recognition of one’s achievements by one’s peer, not a thing which has to be influenced by the forces of market! Or are they?

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Author: Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.

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