A short piece by Tobias Hill in the Guardian Review cleared up something I hadn’t quite realised about this curious Lost Booker enterprise.
In case you missed it, someone has apparently noticed that a rule change for the Booker Prize in 1971 effectively meant that everything published in 1970 had no chance to be considered for the award. So they are running it this year instead. What I hadn’t taken on board was the judges are only drawing up the long list, the actual award will be decided by popular vote.
Which means, in turn, that any book no longer in print is automatically excluded. This results, for instance, in Lawrence Durrell’s Numquam not being included. Though, thinking about it, Durrell might have had a chance with a juried award but I suspect wouldn’t win a popular vote. Particularly not with Numquam, which is really only the second half of a novel. When I read it, in the summer of 1972, it was in a single volume with Tunc under the title The Revolt of Aphrodite, and I think it worked better that way.
Still, it is an interesting long list. Fascinating to see Len Deighton’s Bomber included (even if at least one newspaper described it as a spy novel) since it would not have got anywhere near a Booker Prize during the 1970s. And it is also cheering to see Mary Renault’s Fire From Heaven, another name that would never have got close to the prize at the time. I was addicted to her work in the 60s and 70s but I was under the impression that she was one of the sadly forgotten authors from that period (a view perhaps born out by the fact that so far I have not seen a single commentator refer to her). But there are also a lot of very familiar names on the list, and even given the vagaries of a popular vote system I strongly suspect that the eventual (belated) winner will come from one of them.