It’s peculiar to judge prizes, in the sense of awarding a prize each year to the prize that got it right and the prize, like the Man Booker, that maintains a tradition of hitting itself in the face with a tofu pie.
The award for merit goes to the ancient Nobel reading judges who finally perked up and did something intelligent, current and really rather cool with that brilliant annoyance of a playwright, Harold Pinter.
Even when the Man Booker picks the right author, which is rare, it’s for the wrong book. It forgot Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy in 1993, thus missing one of that century’s great novels. Then it gave it to Margaret Atwood for the wrong book. Her Oryx and Crake should have won. Ian McEwan won for the forgettable Amsterdam but Enduring Love lost out, even though it endured with me to the point that I now fear dining in restaurants where the diners at the next table resemble me and my friends in looks, age and number. For my neighbours could be assassination targets, and my party could get whacked by mistake by a killer with a poor eye for detail. Give readers an interesting neurosis and win the Man Booker, I say.
What happened to the Nobel people? I’m assuming that giving the Peace Prize in 1973 to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho (the Vietnamese leader had the decency to decline it) resulted in bitter decades of self-reproach, as the prize has been handled well since then. This year’s win for Mohamed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA (which I once confused with another bunch of annoying Swedes, IKEA), was dead-on. They had been in the United States’ gunsights via appalling United Nations ambassador John Bolton, and the Nobel may well have ensured the survival of a rational approach to the most irrational creation in human history, nuclear weapons.
The Giller Prize took a killer punch this year, selling itself to a bank. Corporations are as bad as rich people in failing to grasp the essence of do-gooding. If you slap your name on the thing, you miss the point. Man Group of the Booker is a hedge fund, and that could prove embarrassing when hedge funds go the way of derivatives. True, the prize almost never goes to a woman so the name’s appropriate in that sense.
But Scotiabank? Books? It doesn’t ring right. I associate Scotiabank with terrible architecture, horrible red and silver branches that look like gas stations. Could they not have spent their money rewarding some preening modern architect for his latest pool of cat sick? That Daniel Libeskind, for instance.
I have lain in agony on a bed in the Steve Stavro section of my local hospital. I now associate the well-meaning Mr. Stavro with nausea and waves of pain, and that cannot have been his intention. A wing at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children is named after the Black Family Foundation thanks to a donation from that Black person whose New York apartment just got seized by the cops. But the huge sign doesn’t trouble me. It’s the idea of Conrad Black making an anonymous selfless charitable donation that makes my liver wriggle.
Queen’s University has just had to remove name “Radler” from a wing at its school of business and hand the money back. Shades of the Kenneth L. Lay Chair in Economics at the University of Missouri and the Enron awards at the University of Houston. Personally I would have kept the cash, but perhaps Queen’s was afraid that New York Attorney-General Eliot Spitzer would seize the building.
The reason the Nobel prize money is so lavish is that it was born of explosives. They blew up real good. That’s Alfred Nobel saying sorry to the human race.
But the literary table of the Nobel cafeteria famously gets it wrong. I was pleased to see a woman win last year and even more pleased when Elfriede Jelinek couldn’t show up at the ceremony because she has a nervous disorder resembling agoraphobia and was not willing to drown in Big Pharma medication just for a Nobel.
But her novels are quite bad. A Nobel book judge stepped down this month in a protest over Ms. Jelinek that came a year too late. See, they can’t even get protests right. He suggested the panel hadn’t read Ms. Jelinek’s body of work, but since he was a year late in resigning, perhaps he and his former colleagues are all ornery people whose mission is to confound.
So just like John Banville, then, who just won the Man Booker. I will credit the Guardian with pointing out that his winning novel, The Sea, included the words “flocculent,” “cinereal,” “crepitant” and “velutinous” — I shall triumph at Scrabble this year — but will not venture on a novel by the dry, peculiar Mr. Banville again unless I am imprisoned without trial and have time on my hands, endless wastes of aching time.
You see, I just sent a gift to Hassan Almrei, Mohammad Mahjoub and Mahmoud Jaballah, all imprisoned without trial under Canada’s shameful Might Be Terrorists Might Not law. What do you give the man who has nothing, I pondered. In the end, I sent them all Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. Should my Air Canada flight land while over U.S. airspace, I fully expect to be jailed in Michigan for crimes committed while shopping at Amazon.ca. Bring on the Banvilles!
So it was all the more pleasing for the Nobel school of writers to honour Harold Pinter this year. Mr. Pinter, a British Jew whose experiences with anti-Semitism in his youth inspired his writing, has called George W. Bush a “mass murderer” and Tony Blair a “deluded idiot.”
Long live Pinteresque troublemakers (I pause here in tribute) and long live those who honour them.
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