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.
4 thoughts on “The Lost Booker”
I’ve been wanting to read Durrell for some time, especially The Alexandria Quartet. How does The Revolt of Aphrodite compare?
The Alexandria Quartet is the one you absolutely must read. It is a fascinating work both structurally (each of the four novels makes you rethink what you took from the previous ones) and in terms of the writing (Durrell can be a very lush writer, overly free with his adjectives, but I find it most effective in the Quartet). After the Quartet I would recommend the travel books, Prospero’s Cell (on Corfu), Reflections on a Marine Venus (Rhodes) and Bitter Lemons (Cyprus), because they are gorgeous books, very evocative (I fell in love with Greece through the Durrell brothers, and if you haven’t already done so go away this moment and read My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell because it is quite simply one of the finest, and also the funniest, books on Greece ever written). If you get that far, you will probably be a Durrell addict.
That’s the time to read the Quintet and The Revolt of Aphrodite, because they are works that require patience of the reader, so you need to be confident that the patience will be repaid. The Revolt of Aphrodite, by the way, is Durrell flirting with science fiction (it involves robots); it’s not brilliant but it is an interesting work.
A “very lush writer, overly free with his adjectives” sounds like the perfect type for me these days. I’ve been reading a lot of William Gass and Mary Caponegro, and have been going back to John Hawkes.
I think I may have first been encouraged to read Durrell from Samuel Delany’s mentioning of him somewhere, maybe in About Writing?
Yes, it was Delany. On page 128, he lists Durrell, among many heavy hitters, in his “you need to read” list. (There are a few such lists in the book.) And he references The Alexandria Quartet (47) as a successful example of a “fictive work” that makes its “initial appeal through tone of voice–often a tone solidly bourgeois, educated, ironic.”