Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Booker Prize

So they just released the Booker shortlist and lo and behold, favorites Salman Rushdie and Joseph O'Neill do not make it past the previously released longlist! Not that I have anything against Rushdie (or O'Neill for that matter), but I think it's indicative of a positive shift from a strict adherence to the "classics" to a less homogeneous pool of writers. 

Not everyone seems too pleased about this though, as Rushdie fanatic John Sutherland (whom I blame - among others,myself included - for the oblivion Rushdie seems to have moved into) bemoans this year's selection by noting the lack of books dealing with the "current socio-political turmoil" which for him can only be set in "contemporary London, Dublin, or Edinburgh."

On the one hand, I do agree with Sutherland. Yes, gone are the "novels about the Hampstead orgasm, or the Great Wen's multidinous slippery poles." In deed, the "flight from the here (that being the UK, specifically literary London) and the now (that being 2008)" is anything but inconspicuous when you consider the sheer distance this flight has traversed. It is not just a geographic distance, with destinations that include India, Sligo, Sheffield and in the case of A Fraction of the Whole, the "Australian bush.. the cafes of Paris, (and) the Thai jungle." It is also a generational flight, as in The Clothes on Their Backs, in which the protagonist looks back into her Jewish roots, and a political one as in The Northern Clemency which lands in the Thatcher era. While The White Tiger is grounded in contemporary India, it takes flight across socio-economic spaces and offers a satirical perspective on the real and abstract boundaries that separate us in this our modern capitalist world. Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies delves into the past of colonial upheaval in a narrative that "(spans) continents, races and generations" while The Secret Scripture takes flight through memory to reveal an "alternative, secret, history of Ireland."

The point Sutherland is missing, however, is that it is this departure from the here and now in which we are so embroiled that makes this list commendable. In a time when we are forced to examine the fundamental constructions on which we have based our entire lives/civilizations, it seems to me that these novels are giving us an answer to the question that should be on everyone's minds- how did we get here? And while I am in no way doubting Sutherland's expertise in whatever activity he chooses to apply himself (I am particularly interested in getting his recipe on curried texts), I am suggesting that even a man of his learning can stand to gain something from the unique perspectives these books promise.

UPDATE: Just in case anyone questioned my opinion on this matter, please look at this reflection on the short-list by Olivia Laing and notice that she pretty much says the exact same thing I was. 

Case in point:
"alongside their page-turning properties, there is a strong sense of a preoccupation with families and a desire to make sense of the last century through the lens of personal relationships. From Linda Grant's The Clothes on Their Backs to Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture, these are novels passionately concerned with how traumas of the past inflect the present."

I'll take that byline, thanks.

In other news, I'm missing Boima in DC. Tragedy.

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