Friday, October 19, 2007

Accounting for taste

Cultural prizes are under attack, but they serve a valuable role in bringing art to a wider market

Told that she had won the Nobel prize for literature, Doris Lessing surprised reporters with a reaction along the lines of: "Christ, it's about time". And this grumpiness towards awards for authors seems to be spreading across the month. On the eve of the 2007 Man Booker prize this week, thriller writer Robert Harris described these would-be British Oscars for novelists as "evil", accusing judges of stacking the short list with unreadable and unread books selected by criteria of liberal guilt.

Some reports of Anne Enright's victory with The Gathering noted that her book was "bleak and depressing" and "not a bestseller". Even a beneficiary of the Man Booker - Ian McEwan, winner in 1998 and short-listed several times, including this year - has proposed a significant makeover, arguing that short lists should be abandoned, with the judges simply declaring a winner on the day, as happens with the Nobel. This would reduce the sense of authors being tipped and backed like horses.

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