Wednesday, 30 July 2008

This smacks of Sour Grapes

No sooner than the nominations for the Man Booker are announced, someone has to get the first strike in. Enter Jamie Byng of Cannongate Books. Writing in the online forum on the Man Booker Prize's website, Byng stated: "I cannot respect a judging committee that decides to pick a book like Child 44, a fairly well-written and well-paced thriller that is no more than that, over novels as exceptional as Helen Garner's The Spare Room or Ross Raisin's God's Own Country."
In the Independent, Boyd Tonkin wonders why James Kelman's Kieron Smith, Boy was left off the list, but mainly praises the titles that made it. "Some less predictable contenders merit a cheer," he adds, and of Child 44, he says: "With his Stalin-era investigator in Child 44, Tom Rob Smith achieves what has so far eluded the Rankins and Jameses: a penultimate-round Booker run for an upscale detective novel."
Just as with any competition, you can't please all the people all of the time.


Ali Karim said...

I find the hint of literary snobbery perplexing.

I recall Canongate in the early days championing crime fiction, as well as many other genre works, for which I applauded loudly at the time. So as much as I admire what Jamie Byng has done for publishing north of the border; but as a former literary judge [at CWA and ITW], I find his comments very unhelpful and ill-judged in this instance.

Forget the hype, Tom Rob Smith's "Child 44" is a truly remarkable novel; that just so happens to find itself placed in the detective genre. When Byng stated: "I cannot respect a judging committee that decides to pick a book like Child 44, a fairly well-written and well-paced thriller that is no more than that"

Sorry Mr Byng, try using another Bong.

"Child 44" is a remarkable novel, and much better than you infer. I couldn't put the damned thing down. Apart from the page-turning quality, I found its insights into life and death, and the nature of the relationships between good and evil most provocative. Also the quality of writing is remarkable, shattering in fact. When you read as much as I do, it is so wonderful to discover a book of such merit as 'Child 44'. It still remains in my mind, and haunts me from time to time, not unlike the residue of fractured glass from an automobile accident. It is one dark book, but one with jagged insight into the shadows that plague us as a flawed species.

Man Booker Judges - I applaud you.

Some of the best writing today can be found in the genre[s]


Sandra Ruttan said...

What nobody knows is how much publisher support factors into things like this. Who's to say whether every Rankin title has even been submitted, and that isn't meant as a slight to his publisher - the reality is, you submit what you think has a chance of winning. I wonder how many publishers just wouldn't bother because of the long-standing belief crime fiction would be snubbed.

Another variable is the fact that this is either a stand-alone, or the first in a series, and my impression is stand-alone. While many genre authors write series books, there's an inherent potential problem of allusions to events that regular readers (and therefore judges) won't be familiar with.

I think writing stand-alones is almost a conscious choice to be more mainstream and have a chance at some of these awards.

Nick Stone said...

Another year, another gripe about The Booker.

I usually never pay attention to The Booker Prize. It’s elitist, out of touch and bordering on irrelevance. It doesn’t reflect popular reading tastes. It reflects highbrow critics’s tastes in books. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but how many of you on Shots can a). name more than one Booker winner, b). honestly claim to have read more than one Booker winner and c). say that you enjoyed b).?

Be honest now, this isn’t an intellectual pissing contest ….. I’ve read exactly one. Midnight’s Children by Freddie Fatwa. Not even his best book.

Should Child 44 win, it will actually mean that the judges will have picked a book that has been both a critical and commercial hit – in other words, a book a lot of people have actually read; in other words a relevant book.

Byng shot himself in both feet by saying that one of his books should have been nominated instead. Sore losers love their sour grapes.

Nick Stone said...
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