Literary lion and four-time Booker nominee who once dismissed the prize as “posh bingo,” Julian Barnes won the 43rd annual Man Booker Prize, one of Britain’s premier book prizes, for his book “The Sense of an Ending,” judges announced Tuesday in London.
“Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending has the markings of a classic of English Literature,” said Dame Stella Rimington, chair of the 2011 judges, at the announcement in London’s Guildhall. “It is exquisitely written, subtly plotted and reveals new depths with each reading.”
“The Sense of an Ending,” Mr. Barnes’s first novel after six years, became a bestseller in the UK immediately upon publication. Writes the Booker Committee: “It is the story of a seemingly ordinary man who, when revisiting his past in later life, discovers that the memories he holds are less than perfect. Laced with trademark precision, dexterity and insight, this is the work of one of the world's most distinguished writers.”
The Man Booker Prize is awarded for the best work of fiction by an author from the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland. The winner receives a check for £50,000 ($79,000), a flurry of media attention, and is guaranteed a major boost in sales.
Barnes, 65, has authored ten previous novels, three books of short stories, and three collections of journalism. His work has been translated into more than 30 languages and he has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize four times, in all.
Barnes’s was one of six books shortlisted for the prestigious prize. Others included Carol Birch’s “Jamrach’s Menagerie,” Patrick deWitt’s “The Sisters Brothers,” Esi Edugyan’s “Half Blood Blues,” Stephen Kelman’s “Pigeon English,” and “A.D. Miller’s “Snowdrops.”
This year’s contest has been particularly controversial. Barnes recently called the Man Booker Prize “posh bingo,” and criticized judges for being “inflated by their brief celebrity.”
And Britain’s literati have criticized this year’s shortlist, claiming the contest awards populism, readability, and sales over artistic achievement.
Leo Robson, critic for the New Statesman magazine, recently wrote: "If things continue as they are, it isn't hard to imagine a time when the (Man Booker) prize will be seen as a way not of celebrating novels, just of selling them."
Critics have even launched a rival award, The Literature Prize, to unseat the Booker as the benchmark of literary excellence.
The board for the new prize said it will honor novels that are "unsurpassed in their quality and ambition", adding that "for many years this brief was fulfilled by the Booker,” according to a statement issued last Wednesday. "But,” it continued, “as numerous statements by that prize's administrator and this year's judges illustrate, it now prioritizes a notion of 'readability' over artistic achievement.”
The Man Booker Prize was established in 1969 to award the best full-length novel written in English and published in the Commonwealth or the Republic or Ireland. Past notable winners have included Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, and VS Naipaul. Several Booker Prize winning novels have also been adapted into films, including Thomas Keneally’s “Schindler’s Ark,” (which became “Schindler’s List”) and Michael Ondaatje’s “The English Patient,” both of which became Academy Award winners.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.