I passed a miserable morning at Barnes and Noble. Suffering a vexatious bout of man-flu and with teething baby daughter in tow, I thought a visit to my local bookstore might be cheering and – after three days stuck at home – a pleasant change of scenery. I was wrong. Almost as quiet as a morgue, a few pensioners sipping overpriced Starbucks coffee, a handful of stragglers who sit reading in the fiction aisles, but who appear not to be purchasing anything. I noticed books on angels reduced to clearance, kitten calendars for 2014, a survivalist magazine, and, most disturbingly of all, a whole display table given over to the writings of Bill O’Reilly.
For the tens of dozens of O’Reilly books there, I could find only one copy of Bring Up the Bodies, the most recent winner of the Man Booker Prize.
That may change in my little corner of American suburbia after last week’s announcement that the Man Booker Prize would be expanding its selection criteria to include American writers from 2014 onwards. Of course, the future eligibility of American writers for the Booker does not open the Pulitzer for British writers; like our extradition treaty with the US, it is not an entirely equitable agreement.
In the interest of fairness, I should add that this change to widen the Booker from being a prize for British and Commonwealth (as well as Irish and Zimbabwean) authors is not just about including Americans, although you would be forgiven for thinking that was indeed the case if you had read any of the handwringing articles in the British press over fears that the Yanks will end up dominating the prize in future. Instead, there is a compelling case to be made that this is a necessary change. That as there is so much interesting writing in English being written all over the world, it would be wrong to discount it on account of the writer’s passport.
As Sophie Hardach wrote in The Atlantic, as English becomes more inclusive so too must the Booker, and in doing so better reflect the increasing diversity of the UK. ” All over London, Spanish-staffed coffee chains sit next to West Indian chicken stalls and Turkish hairdressers. Britain is becoming more like America: a magnet to migrants from all over the world. This includes migrant writers, and not ones just from former colonies.”
Of course, the more cynical have pointed that all laudable claim for being inclusive are just a smokescreen and the change in eligibility is an attempt to counteract the recently created Folio Prize set up to compete with the Booker and which is open to writers in English regardless of their nationality.
Anyhow, being aware of the nature of this site, I thought I would include five Booker winning novels that I feel might be interesting for an expat to read.
Midnight’s Children (1981) – Salman Rushdie
Not just any Booker winner, but the winner of the Booker of Bookers, a sort of literary equivalent of Countdown’s champion of champions tournaments. A magical realism take on Indian independence, it is a richly evocative novel with a main character and narrator whose life is intertwined with that of his home nation.
The Siege of Krishnapur (1973) – J.G. Farell
The second novel in Farell’s loose Empire trilogy detailing the decline of the British Emprire. Based upon the Indian rebellion of 1857, it is, at times, a surprisingly funny novel.
Rites of Passage (1980) – William Golding
Living thousands of miles from home is easy in the jet age. That 6,000 mile journey can be traversed in a ten hour flight. The account of a young British artistocrat’s journey on a warship as he makes his way to Australia in the early 1800s may give current expats pause for thought.
The Inheritance of Loss (2006) – Kiran Desai
A fairly recent winner, one of the major plots in this work follows the journey of Biju, an illegal immigrant in the US.
Oscar and Lucinda (1986) – Peter Carey
Like Rites of Passage, this novel also tells the tale of a young Englishman traveling to Australia in the nineteenth century, don’t let that fool you, however, as they are both very different novels. My personal favorite of Carey’s works.