Friday, July 11, 2008

Does Rushdie's Midnight's Children add value to the Booker Prize?

Much is made of the fact that Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children has, for the second time in history, been judged the best ever winner of the Booker prize. [Link]

Victoria Glendinning, a member of the panel that drew up a list of 6 books for the shortlist, said that "the readers have spoken - in their thousands. " That is right, the honor was decided by a public vote via the internet and SMS text messaging (with a small charge).

I was rooting for Disgrace knowing that its author, J.M. Coetzee, stands no chance against the celebrity figure in Rushdie. I did not even dare contemplate J.G. Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur because public popularity contests are usually skewed against dead people. (Farrell passed away in 1979). Well, at least the others got the honor of being shortlisted. It seems like that is not a given any more.

Midnight's Children may be a fine piece of work. Yet I cannot help but wonder if the internet-based voters (a self-selected population) really read all six books on the shortlist before they voted for their favorite.

According to John Mullan, another judge in the panel that drew up the shortlist:

...the value of the Best of the Bookers is wider than its simple identification of a single winner: “It looks at what qualities of books survive the fashion that gives them their temporary celebrity.” [Link]

Given that there were only about 8,000 public votes in all (and 36% or 2,880 votes went to Midnight's Children), that seems like a tall claim. But this can be put to test very soon--after all, we are only 10 years away from the next major anniversary of the birth of the Man Booker Prize.

The books may all be good but the award is beginning to sound cheap.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wonder if you sort of bond to the types of books you first notice when you start reading Booker winner type books? I started reading them in the Anita Brookner, Pat Barker, Peter Carey era and those books, and writers, I still like. I have never been able to get into the fashionable contemporary fiction, but, I wonder if that is just personal taste, me not giving the new writers a chance, or, that I bonded to a particular style and remain bonded to it?

MD (onparkstreet)

*I have a fondness for Anita Brookner which I know is a bit old-fashioned and middlebrow, but, I don't care. I first read her in college and if Jonathan Yardley praises her, can I be too wrong :)

*She's not a political writer, thank goodness. How boring that would be.

**I read excerpts of Rushdie, but, can't get into it. Don't know why.

Malathi said...

MD,

Click on the link to Midnight's Children in my post and you may get an answer to why it is difficult to get into Rushdie. (The link leads you to one of the few articles critical of Midnight's Children that I could find on the web.)

I started to read Rushdie, wanting to be 'well-read.' But I have never quite finished a book of his without getting exasperated, without skipping and skimming through whole pages and passages. It is as if he is getting more and more self-indulgent with each passing book and his adoring public would never have the patience to put up with such a sprawling, flamboyant style from a new writer.

I do believe we bond with all our first loves, be they books or movies or theatre.

I like Anita Brookner even though the first time I read her was a little later than normal, sometime in the mid-90s, when I discovered her on my own.

dr saurabh bhatia said...

The brouhaha over this booker is overrated, just like the wonders of the world scam.
I guess the very fact that only 8000+ people voted goes on to show the ludicrousness of this prize.
Let's talk of better things in life like
"...Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

:-)

Sujatha said...

I struggled to get past page 150 or so of Midnight's Children, till I suddenly realized that I didn't have to- it was the start of an epiphany that life is too short to waste on boring or annoying reads, a precept which had never occurred to me before.
I was rooting for 'The Siege of Krishnapur', the only other book on the list that I had read.
Is it quite possible that Rushdie won mainly because his name is more familiar to the internet/SMS-ing crowd than Coetzee or Farrell, for instance. The fatwa and the guest appearances in movies would have definitely raised his profile, even without voters having actually read his works.

Malathi said...

Sujatha, this is such a funny line, I burst out laughing:

I struggled to get past page 150 or so of Midnight's Children, till I suddenly realized that I didn't have to- it was the start of an epiphany that life is too short to waste on boring or annoying reads.

Yes, the siege of krishnapur is a fine, nuanced book.

To add weight to your speculation about the internet/SMS crowd being involved in this vote: the majority of the votes for Rushdie came from those in the age category of 30-35 years. I wouldn't be surprised if they all happened to be males too.

Sujatha said...

Rushdie can be exhilarating in small doses, but for some reason, I find him annoying in larger doses. Maybe the denseness of the writing has something to do with it. The only book of his that I completed without substantial annoyance was 'The Moor's Last Sigh'.
Even the recent 'Enchantress of Florence' had me skipping through more pages than actually reading them, especially when chapter after chapter would go into scatological mode-it's almost as though he was trying to push up the masala quotient by going overboard on those references. Now we know why the 30-35 male demographic rooted for Rushdie in droves ;)

dr saurabh bhatia said...

hullo

new post due!!
:-)

dr saurabh bhatia said...

Hey
I didnt get to see ur comment on my blog till yesterday
yes the pics are mine, with my family. and i look diff coz i removed the beard. And i was thinking of mentioning that is it holiday season out there coz both of u had stopped posting for some time. But melvin came out finally with a post :-)
Do check my latest one please.