The link below is to an article reporting on the best Man Booker Prize winner as voted by the public.
The link below is to another article reporting on the IKEA reading rooms in London associated with the Man Booker Award.
Following the announcement that Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina is the first graphic novel ever to be longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Joanne Harris (the author of Chocolat) tweeted #TenThingsAboutGraphicNovels and stated simply: “graphic novels are novels”.
Once upon a time, graphic novels may have been viewed as disposable – and not especially literary – but such a value judgement has long since been challenged.
The graphic autobiography has become especially visible in recent years, with a noteworthy example being Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2000) – which details her experiences as a young woman during and after the Iranian revolution in 1979. The novel was adapted into a film in 2007.
The comic book has a long and rich history, as Scott McCloud’s 1993 book Understanding Comics explains. He looks at a pre-Columbian text from the Codex Nuttall about 8-Deer “Tiger’s Claw”, discovered by the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortés around 1519. McCloud argues we can think about such early texts as comics.
Terminology is important here, too. The word “comics” usually refers to serialised publications – whereas “graphic novels” are issued as books. That said, they share many artistic and literary characteristics. Author Alan Moore has rejected the term “graphic novel” (along with the film versions of his work), suggesting it is nothing more than a marketing term. So, in no particular order – and with that caveat in mind – here are my top five literary reads in graphic novel and comic book genres.
Author Bryan Talbot is well-known to comic and graphic novel fans, having penned The Adventures of Luther Arkwright in the 1970s and 1980s. Grandville is the first volume in a series of five, which tells the investigative story of a badger detective, Detective Inspector LeBrock, accompanied by his trusty sidekick, Roderick the Rat.
In this anthropomorphic universe, humans feature in servile roles as an underclass, with some critical comparisons to post-9/11 racial stereotypes. The Grandville of the title is an alternative history Paris, lovingly characterised with steampunk details and Belle Époque style. The city of Grandville takes its name from the pseudonym of a French artist, Gérard Grandville, famed for his satire of French politics and society.
The book wears its intellectualism lightly – but, for those with a keen eye, look out for cultural references to Édouard Manet, Augustus Egg, Sarah Bernhardt, and intertexts such as Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, as well as children’s classics including Wind in the Willows, Tintin and Rupert the Bear.
From Hell (1999)
Alan Moore needs little introduction to cult readers or the academic community. He has amassed a wealth of literary criticism about his work, including plenty of material about the title I have chosen, From Hell. This was originally issued in serial form and later published as a single-volume collected work – the version with which most readers will be familiar.
From Hell is not for the squeamish: it retells in gruesome detail the Whitechapel murders of the late 19th century, speculating Jack the Ripper was Sir William Gull, Queen Victoria’s royal physician. Gull’s murder spree, seeking to suppress an illegitimate heir to the throne and filtered through a lens of masonic imagery and misogyny, takes us through a psychogeographic tour of London.
Eddie Campbell’s exquisite illustrations contrast the privileged suburbs in which Gull lives with the poverty-stricken degradation of Whitechapel’s citizens.
Partly fictional and partly factual, the book is a wonderful parody of the dark tourist interest in the murders, with the careful reader becoming increasingly self-conscious of their own uncomfortable complicity in the narrative.
Like From Hell, Art Spiegelman’s Maus was originally published in serial form. Spiegelman began writing in 1978, telling the story of his father, Vladek Spiegelman, a Holocaust survivor.
In many ways, the text defeats simplistic categories and genres: it is a fiction, an autobiography and a history.
It is also another anthropomorphic story in which Nazis are cats and the Jewish community are characterised as mice. The reader is placed in the unenviable but important position of bearing after-witness to the trauma of the Nazi regime, a point enhanced by the use of literary devices such as the framing narrative.
Spiegelman uses the more recent moment of the late 1970s and interviews with his elderly, widowed father as a departure point to revisit the 1930s through to the end of the Holocaust in 1945.
Spiegelman’s book won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992.
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage (2015)
Sydney Padua’s witty black-and-white graphic novel describes itself as “an imaginary comic about an imaginary computer”. It foregrounds Ada Lovelace’s contribution to Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine, the herald of our modern computers.
Like other examples here, the narrative is situated in an alternative universe, which offers a view of what would happen if the Difference Engine had been built. Along with an adventure plot, the graphic novel features references to a wealth of 19th–century characters such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Duke of Wellington. It has elaborate pseudo-factual footnotes and endnotes of which writers such as Flann O’Brien or Mark Z. Danielewski would be proud.
Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes (2012)
It would be very remiss of me, as a longstanding aficionado of James Joyce, to omit reference to this Costa award-winning graphic memoir by Mary M. Talbot (with illustrations by Bryan Talbot, the writer’s husband), which follows Lucia Joyce’s troubled relationship with her father, and draws parallels with the author’s own relationship with her father, the eminent Joyce scholar James S. Atherton.
Lucia’s tragic love for Samuel Beckett – and her thwarted ambition to become a dancer – are beautifully juxtaposed with Talbot’s recollections of her upbringing, alongside the difficulties experienced by both talented women growing up with writerly fathers. Strategic use of colour, sepia tones and the frequent use of the Courier typeface (as well as Talbot’s own personal lettering font which features throughout his work), make this book an aesthetically delightful read.
So many masterpieces, so little time
Of course, there are many artists and writers I have omitted from this list – not least figures such as Neil Gaiman, whose work The Sandman (1989-) has been critically acclaimed, pushing as it does the Gothic tropes and metaphysical reflections of the genre.
For those of a humorous inclination, Kate Beaton’s webcomic Hark, A Vagrant (published as a book in 2011) is an affectionately irreverent look at literature and history, including the hilarious Dude Watchin’ With the Brontës.
There are also the recent works lauded in the Will Eisner Comic Awards, held earlier this month in San Diego as part of Comic-Con. Further reading can be found on that list.
The link below is to an article reporting on ‘reading rooms’ being set up by IKEA in London to celebrate the announcement of the Nam Booker Prize longlist.
The links below are to articles by The Guardian on the 2018 Man Booker Longlist.
For more visit:
The link below is to an article that reports on criticism of the Man Booker for allowing the entrance of USA writers.
The Booker Prize has been Britain’s most influential award since its inception in 1969. Following its original mission statement of awarding a prize to “the best novel in the opinion of the judges”, the prize has created headlines and controversy over five decades, including argument over the inclusion of American authors after 2014. But it has also, and surely most importantly, rewarded writers, brought them to increasing public attention, and ensured them both critical acclaim and higher sales.
Past Booker winners are now on both school and university curricula, enriching the traditional canon of literature that all too often focuses on male, white and (upper) middle class writing that is no longer in keeping with the times. The prize has also spawned some important spin-offs, most prominently the Man Booker International Prize, first awarded in 2005 that has, over the past few years, evolved into a prize that awards both international writers and, uniquely, their translators.
In February 2017, following on from the success of previous special anniversary prizes, the Man Booker foundation launched the Golden Man Booker Prize to celebrate the prize’s 50th anniversary. Rather than having to (re)read all 51 winners, the five appointed judges – writer Robert McCrum, poet Lemn Sissay, novelist Kamila Shamsie, broadcaster and writer Simon Mayo, and poet Hollie McNish – were each allocated one decade of prize winners and tasked with identifying what they thought was the outstanding winner of those particular years. The shortlist was announced at a special event at the Hay Festival on May 26. The winner of the Golden Booker will be announced on July 8. So who’s in the running?
For Robert McCrum, the outstanding text of the 1970s winners was V S Naipaul’s In a Free State. It tells the story of two British people, Bobby and Linda, travelling across an unnamed African country in the midst of an ethnic war that suggests the Uganda of the Idi Amin years. Despite their privileged position as members of the white colonial class, Bobby and Linda come to experience firsthand the escalating violence in the country.
McCrum, in his summary of why he chose the text, explained that it was:
Outstandingly the best novel to win the Booker Prize in the 1970s, a disturbing book about displaced people at the dangerous edge of a disrupted world that could have been written yesterday, a classic for all seasons.
Lemn Sissay chose Penelope Lively’s often overlooked 1987 winner Moon Tiger, surprisingly ignoring Booker heavyweights such as Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981), Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s List (1982) or Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day (1989).
Moon Tiger tells the story of Claudia Hampton, who recounts her colourful life as she lies dying, covering much of the 20th century in the process. Hampton is a fascinating heroine: not quite likeable, yet immensely intriguing and fascinating, and it was this that was most remarkable for Sissay.
The 1990s novel that stood out for Shamsie was Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient (1992). Ondaatje shared the prize with Barry Unsworth’s slave narrative Sacred Hunger – one of only two cases of a divided jury in the prize’s history. Set in Florence at the end of World War II, the novel recounts the life of a badly burnt soldier, who relives his ill-fated love affair with the married Katherine Clifton for his three companions: the spy Caravaggio, who administers morphine to the patient; his nurse Hana; and the Sikh bomb disposal expert Kip.
Ondaatje’s novel, turned into an award-winning film starring Ralph Fiennes, has always been considered one of the most high-profile winners of the award. For Shamsie, this is entirely justified: it is “that rare novel which gets under your skin and insists you return to it time and again, always yielding a new surprise or delight.”
Mayo’s outstanding winner was Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall of 2009, the first in a planned trilogy of Tudor novels. It charts the rise to power of Thomas Cromwell at the court of Henry VIII. Its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, won the Man Booker Prize in 2012, making Mantel one of only three authors – alongside Peter Carey and J M Coetzee – and to date the only woman to have won the award twice.
The final instalment of the trilogy – The Mirror and the Light – is highly anticipated and scheduled for publication in 2019. What stood out for Mayo in his choice was “its questioning of what England is” – a question that is, despite the novel’s historical setting, surely pertinent in the present.
It is the most recent Man Booker Prize winner, George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo of 2017, that was the most outstanding recent novel for McNish. The novel covers a single night, set in a graveyard where a grieving Abraham Lincoln mourns the death of his young son Willie. Featuring a plethora of diverse voices, Lincoln in the Bardo explores ideas of life, death and mourning in a way that, according to McNish, was simultaneously “funny, imaginative and tragic” as well as “a piece of genius in its originality of form and structure”.
Narrowing down 51 Man Booker Prize winners from five decades to a shortlist of five is a herculean task. What makes this shortlist remarkable for me is its absence of the “big” winners, the ones that are most often associated with the prize: Ishiguro, Rushdie, Keneally, Coetzee, Martell. Maybe the judges tried to steer clear of them precisely because they have had so much coverage in the past.
2018’s shortlist is very varied – historical narratives, fictional biographies, explorations of war and genocide all feature. For the judges of each decade’s “best” winner, it was a very personal decision; as it will have been for the members of the public who have voted for their favourite of the five shortlisted texts.
What do I think will happen? I’m hesitant to say … but rather than truly judging “the best” of the Booker winners, perhaps 2018’s special award will reward that novel that still manages to best capture the public mood.
Is it a coincidence that J.K. Rowling studied French and Classics? Or that Shakespeare wrote passages of dialogue in Welsh and French, suggesting that he was conversant in both? To write successfully in your first language, it can help if you know a second – it is one way of seeing the world from another perspective and making comparisons, which is after all what literature is all about. But what of writers of contemporary literary fiction?
Researchers on the Open World Research Initiative at Swansea University have investigated the nearly 300 novels that have made the Booker shortlist since 1969 to find out. And as we await the announcement of the readers’ choice of the “Golden Booker” on July 8, which will name the winning novel from the history of the Man Booker prize that has “best stood the test of time”, their initial findings throw up a disturbing recent trend that language awareness is decreasing among British-born writers.
The ability of authors to understand another language gets ignored in surveys of the Booker Prize – multiple times. If a writer’s English is inflected by Australian, South African or Canadian roots, these origins are duly noted by literary journalists. Why not language background too? Language-switchers who grew up in the former British Empire are not the only multilinguals to watch out for on the Booker shortlists. Some of their British-born counterparts also learnt a second language, which influenced their writing in similar ways: their choice of subject matter and how they expressed themselves.
The second language of writers on the shortlists is nearly always European, with French firmly in first place (more than 20 speakers among the 200 writers who have been shortlisted for the prize). German, Italian, Spanish and Russian are also well represented, as is Japanese, albeit all in single figures. There is only one identifiable Czech speaker (Tom McCarthy, nominated in 2010 and 2015) but none with Polish.
Spawn of Flaubert
The most famous literary French speaker is probably Julian Barnes, winner in 2011 with The Sense of an Ending. His breakthrough novel Flaubert’s Parrot, which was nominated in 1984 presents a series of takes on the great French novelist assembled by a Francophile narrator. Knowing another language is after all one way to see the world from an alternative point of view. For this reason many writers cut their literary teeth, like Barnes, on foreign-language material or experiences.
The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles should have made it to the inaugural shortlist in 1969, but it was The Magus, the original “year-abroad novel” set in Greece, which launched Fowles’ writing career. J.G. Farrell, who studied French and Spanish at university, is famous for his “empire trilogy”, Troubles (named the “lost” Booker Prize winner in 2010), The Siege of Krishnapur (winner in 1973) and The Singapore Grip (1978), but his first novel A Man from Elsewhere (1963) is set in Paris.
In his debut South (1992), the Irish writer Colm Tóibín, who has subsequently been nominated for the Booker three times, was inspired by his own encounter with Barcelona as a young man – which he transfers to a female central character who narrates some of the novel. Switching languages for an author – or anyone – can change who you are in fundamental ways. Canadian author Yann Martel won in 2002 with The Life of Pi, but his first novel Self (1996) merges gender and language identity as the multilingual narrator metamorphoses from man to woman and back again, showing that language identity is bound up with other identities and can be part of the literary imagination.
The shortlists for the Booker throw up some amazing linguists – but, at least when the British are concerned, their heyday appears to have been in the first two decades of the prize’s existence, the 1970s and 1980s. First prize for language prowess in any era would have to go to Anthony Burgess, on the shortlist in 1980 for Earthly Powers, who invented a new language for the dystopian Clockwork Orange and read and spoke up to ten real ones.
Burgess was born in 1917, a year after Penelope Fitzgerald, who won the in 1979 for the evocatively entitled Offshore. Three other novels are set in Italy (Innocence, 1986), Russia (The Beginning of Spring, 1988), and Germany (The Blue Flower, 1995), each written as if by a native speaker, except of course in English.
Jewish emigrés were a further force for the internationalisation of British fiction. Sybil Bedford (1911-2006) found herself on the shortlist at the age of 78 with Jigsaw in 1989. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1927-2013), who moved to India after the war, where her early fiction is set, won the Booker with Heat and Dust in 1975.
The Cold War also produced some high-profile language learners. Michael Frayn – who was shortlisted in 1999 for Headlong – was taught Russian during his national service, as was DM Thomas, whose White Hotel ran Midnight’s Children a close race for the prize in 1981. Thomas translates Russian poetry and has written a biography of Solzhenitsyn. Frayn’s novels include The Russian Interpreter (1966) – and his play Democracy (2003) was about the fall of Willy Brandt.
Their close contemporary John le Carré was recruited to the secret service on the basis of speaking fluent German, which he learned after running away to Switzerland as a teenager. He has called German his “muse”. But, sadly, genre fiction is not Booker material – and, in any case, le Carré is not keen on literary awards.
The young generation
But what of younger novelists, say those shortlisted since the turn of the millennium? If we limit the field to British writers, then it is getting narrower. Graeme Macrae Burnet made the shortlist in 2016 with His Bloody Project. The Accident on the A35 from 2017 is very much a linguists’ novel about translation and transcription, as is Men in Space – the 2007 novel by the twice-nominated Tom McCarthy which is set in Prague and includes a series of jokes on interlingual miscommunication. Both authors are still under 50.
Philip Hensher, nominated in 2008 for The Northern Clemency, is reticent about his proficiency in German, which came to the fore in his 1998 novel Pleasured which is about the fall of the Berlin wall. Simon Mawer, nominated in 2009 for The Glass Room, lives in Italy. That is more or less it.
People who visit the UK are sometimes struck by how few books are translated into the world’s lingua franca which in all its global variants can seem sufficient to itself. As a culture English monolinguals risk missing out on how near neighbours are representing their experiences to themselves and each other.
Translation takes many forms, however, and mother-tongue English novelists could make up the gap by getting abroad, whether in person or through books, as previous generations were doing up to quite recently.
Six books, six languages, two former winners and a bonanza for independent publishers: the Man Booker International Prize – the UK’s most prestigious prize for translated fiction – has announced its 2018 shortlist. Whittled down from a longlist of 13 titles spanning the globe, the six titles to make the cut are translated from Arabic, French, Hungarian, Korean, Spanish and Polish.
This year’s nominations have been selected by a panel of five judges, chaired by novelist Lisa Appignanesi with fellow writers Hari Kunzru and Helen Oyeyemi alongside poet and translator Michael Hofmann and journalist Tim Martin. The shortlist includes Han Kang and Deborah Smith – who won the prize in 2016 for The Vegetarian – and László Krasznahorkai – who won the prize in its former iteration in 2015 – when it was awarded for an achievement in fiction evident in a body of work.
The winner of the 2018 prize will be announced on May 22 at a formal dinner at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London – and the £50,000 prize will be divided equally between the author and the translator of the winning book.
The Booker Prize Foundation has rejigged the flagship award in recent years. An awful lot of handwringing has been devoted to the decision to include US authors as contenders for the “main” award, The Man Booker Prize. But very little attention has been paid to the decision to overhaul the group’s international prize. Originally introduced in 2005, the Man Booker International Prize was intended as a global-facing sister award – with a twist. The original version of the International prize was a biennial award honouring an entire body of work by a living writer of any nationality and in any language (as long as their work was available in English).
The original format was a noble pursuit, but the Man Booker International was inevitably overshadowed on the global literary stage by the Nobel Prize for Literature. As of 2016, the Man Booker International Prize now awards a single book – but one that has been originally written in a language other than English, then subsequently translated and published in the UK.
The International Prize’s unique selling point is the emphasis on collaboration between author and translator, even down to sharing the prize money. The focus on collaboration is what makes the International Prize, for me, a truly exciting event in the literary awards calendar.
Focus on translation
Arguably, the change has been for the better but the comparative lack of attention on the international award is still indicative of mainstream publishing’s general disinterest in translated fiction – bar the occasional bestselling “Scandi Noir” and international phenomenon such as Italy’s Elena Ferrante, of course, the latter shortlisted for the prize in 2016, along with translator Ann Goldstein.
Although we shouldn’t be tempted to see the commercial popularity of Jo Nesbø and the relative success of Ferrante as a sea change in translated fiction’s fortunes in UK publishing, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic. Adam Freudenheim of Pushkin Press suggests that “there’s definitely greater and wider awareness of fiction in translation as a result of such successes”, pointing to the new format of the Man Booker International Prize as “doing a great deal to raise the profile of such books”.
Small publishers to the fore
Crucially, the prize is raising the profile of those small presses and independent publishers who are at the vanguard of translated literature. As well as the aforementioned Pushkin Press, notable small publishers specialising in translated literature include Tilted Axis Press and And Other Stories. This year’s shortlist is dominated by titles from independent presses, including two books from Tuskar Rock Press, and one each from MacLehose Press, Portobello Books, Oneworld and Fitzcarraldo Editions.
The role of independent publishers in supporting translated literature is not lost on the judges for the International Prize: announcing the longlist earlier this year, Appignanesi declared: “I think we have to raise our hats to independent publishers. It does cost money to translate, it’s harder to publish, harder to sell.”
The International Prize has even had a direct impact on the range of translated literature available in the UK: Kang and Smith’s inaugural win in 2016 for The Vegetarian meant that Smith had extra funds for her non-profit small press, Tilted Axis – which is “on a mission to shake up contemporary international literature”.
Translated fiction may be a small part of the British reading diet but it is one that is steadily growing. In 2015, The Bookseller reported that translated fiction only accounted for 1.5% overall and 3.5% of published literary fiction. Yet translated fiction provided 5% of total fiction sales in 2015.
Only time will tell if the appetite for translated fiction in the UK can continue. In the meantime, let’s toast the shortlisted authors and translators. If you’ve yet to enjoy translated fiction, this year’s shortlist is a good place to expand your global reading life.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at the call for US authors to not be included in the Man Booker Prize.