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.