The world goes Booker-ish!

The world goes Booker-ish!Shivangi Singh

Booker is as fickle as Lady Fortune and as rewarding! An obscure writer turns into an overnight celebrity and a book, which you would never pick-up under ordinary circumstances, would turn out to be an international bestseller – all thanks to the Man Booker Prize. There is only one thing very sure about the award, the fact that it is completely unpredictable.
The writer on which the benevolent Booker smiled gets surrounded by literati and glitterati, media savours every word that he drops and his often ‘unintelligible’ sayings get considered as the wisest of thoughts. Every year, this award season, the same question does the rounds in literary circles – who will claim it? And more often than not, the safe bets turn out to be very unsafe.

For sure, no Indian is to turn ‘Booker-ish’ this year – a sad fact after Aravind Adiga touched the pinnacle of success with his ‘The White Tiger’, only last year. This year, the safe bet is on Briton Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’.

The six musketeers

Do not worry if you have not read the six short listed books for Booker this year. Here is a sneak-peek into the six contenders and their works so that you can form an opinion and happily agree or disagree with the judges of the prestigious award.

Hilary Mantel for ‘Wolf Hall’: 57-year-old Briton Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’ is about the life and times of Thomas Cromwell – a prominent historical figure. A work of historical fiction, the book opens with Cromwell as victim of his violent father and picks up his story when he is in the service of Cardinal Wolsey. He rises through the ranks to become one of King Henry VIII`s most trusted aides, helping the monarch in his attempts to break with the papacy in Rome. A sequel is reportedly in the works, taking the reader to the grisly end of Cromwell`s life. He was executed in 1540.

AS Byatt for ‘The Children’s Book’: AS Byatt had already tasted ‘Booker’ success for her ‘Possession’ in 1990. The 73-year-old has been nominated this time for ‘The Children`s Book’ – a tale of 20 children, set in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The book revolves around a famous writer, who pens a separate private book for each of her children, complete with family mysteries. The novel explores issues of class, love, politics and idealism among families across generations.

JM Coetzee for ‘Summertime’: JM Coetzee is a huge literary figure. A Nobel laureate, he has already claimed the Booker twice in 1983 and 1990. ‘Summertime’ is the story of a young biographer who is working on a book about the late writer John Coetzee, whom he has never met. The work completes a trilogy of fictionalised memoirs for Nobel laureate Coetzee, 69, following ‘Boyhood’ and ‘Youth’.

Adam Fould for ‘The Quickening Maze’: Born in 1974, Adam Fould - the youngest author on the 2009 shortlist, is being considered as the dark horse in the Booker run. ‘The Quickening Maze’ is based on real events that took place at an asylum near London in the 1840s. The book tells the story of the incarceration of nature poet John Clare, who struggled with alcoholism, neglect and depression.

Simon Mawer for ‘The Glass Room’: In Simon Mawer`s (born in 1948) entry on the list, ‘The Glass Room’ - a Jewish-Gentile couple prepares to flee as the threat of World War Two grows. Their house atop a Czechoslovak Hill, becomes a silent observer of time as a laboratory, a shelter, a place of comfort for the ruined.

Sarah Waters for ‘The Little Stranger’: ‘The Little Stranger’ by the British Sarah Waters, tells the story of Dr Faraday, who returns to a house, Hundreds Hall, that he has not seen for decades only to realise how the family home has declined. Waters, 43, has twice been shortlisted for the Man Booker before, in 2002 for ‘Fingersmith’ and ‘The Night Watch’ in 2006.

James Naughtie, Chairman of this year’s judges panel said that selecting a winner this year would be a ‘headache’ as the six contenders are on top of their form. So, it’s quite a tough fight ahead for those waiting for Booker’s grin.

(The article was written before the announcement of Booker Prize 2009.)