Booker Prize winner to be announced tomorrow amid controversy

The favorite to win the award, author Julian Barnes, once called the prize "posh bingo."

C3105 Erwin Elsner Deutsche Presse-Agentur/Newscom
Author Julian Barnes is the favorite to win the Booker Prize tomorrow for his work "The Sense of an Ending."

The author favored to win the Man Booker Prize tomorrow, four-time nominee English author Julian Barnes, once criticized the award, calling it “posh bingo.”

Barnes, who is nominated for his work "The Sense of an Ending," said judges for the award have been “inflated by their brief celebrity.”

And that’s not the only drama surrounding the prize this year. Dissatisfaction with the award, which is given to an author from Ireland, Zimbabwe, or the Commonwealth of Nations, which includes the United Kingdom, New Zealand, India, Australia and Canada, was shown in one of several instances when agent Andrew Kidd recently announced the creation of a new prize called the Literature Prize. Kidd is the spokesperson for the organizers of the new award and said in a statement that the Booker prize “now prioritizes a notion of 'readability' over artistic achievement.” Authors of any nationality will be eligible for the Literature Prize.

Argument has also arisen this year over the list of six nominees, which some critics said was severely lacking. Chair of judges Stella Rimington, a former British spy chief and former judge for the Booker who has written several thrillers as well as an autobiography, called the criticisms “pathetic.”

A perceived focus by the judges on books being readable versus being good works of literature has also annoyed some, including former poet laureate of the United Kingdom Andrew Motion, who said he thought the judges’ attitude “opens up a completely false divide between what is high end and what is readable, as if they are somehow in opposition to one other, which is patently not true.” Others were offended when novelist and one of this year’s judges Susan Hill posted on her Twitter account last week a list of books she found “unreadable” that included James Joyce’s “Ulysses” and Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.”

Ion Trewin, the prize’s administrator, told the Guardian that the judges just wanted to reward novels that were readable as well as being good works of literature.

“Nobody wants something with literary quality which is unreadable,” Trewin said. “That would be daft.”

Winners of the Booker Prize receive a check for 50,000 pounds, or $79,000, and in the past winners have seen the sales of their books skyrocket.

Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.

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