Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Public Wants What The Public Gets: A Booker Prize Jam

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but here’s a couple of snippets from items that have popped up in my inbox over the last day or so. First up, John Connolly (right) from the latest post to his rather excellent blog, the remit of which is to keep his readers abreast on the trials and tribulations of whatever novel he happens to be working on:
“I’m also trying to get a handle on what kind of book THE LOVERS is. In a recent interview, I said that each book I write seems to be a reaction to the one that preceded it, and I suppose that’s true of THE LOVERS. Where THE REAPERS was fast and linear, with a very straightforward narrative, THE LOVERS is more complex, more allusive. A lot of it concerns events that have happened in the past, and a large part of the second half is taken up with one character revealing, over the course of a single evening, the truth behind the death of Parker’s father. I want to see if I can retain the reader’s interest by juggling the desire to find out ‘what happens next’ with gradual revelations about what has gone before.”
  I’ve met John Connolly on a few occasions, and heard him speak publicly about books a couple of times. He is, as most of you know, a very fine stylist, a superb storyteller, and a best-seller to boot. And when John Connolly speaks about writing, the conversation tends to quickly narrow down to one thing: WHAT. THE. READER. WANTS.
  I don’t know if the following pair of snippets should be placed in direct contrast to Connolly’s approach, but both of them are just two examples of what seems to be a growing backlash against the Booker Prize. First, from Wednesday, author James Delingpole in The Telegraph:
“I reckon that, too often, what our literary prize panels confuse with proper writing is in fact just overwriting, and that the problem is exacerbated by a salon of smug, sanctimonious, mostly Left-leaning literary-tastemakers (and gullible book groups) who feel a novel isn’t “valid” unless it’s a) a bit hard to read, b) weighed down with purple prose or poetry, c) socially worthy (madness, disability, child abuse, etc.) and d) best of all, imbued with lashings of fashionable, Zadie-Smith-style, melting-pot ethnic exoticism.”
  Then, today, critic Boyd Tonkin in The Independent:
“Behind the storm-in-a-wineglass feuds that surround the Man Booker Prize, a true and even tragic sub-plot may be starting to unfold. To be mass-market blunt rather than literary-novel elliptical: is the British audience for ambitious fiction dying off, losing faith, or just drifting away? […] In the five weeks after the long-list announcement on 29 July, the 13 titles of the “Booker dozen” sold fewer than 14,000 UK copies; on average, barely 1,000 each. This is, frankly, pathetic.”
  Back at the end of July, the Bookseller published a list of the sales of the newly nominated novels:
1. The Enchantress of Florence 15,433
2. Child 44 8,278
3. Sea of Poppies 5,034
4. Netherland 4,023
5. The Clothes on Their Backs 3,592
6. The White Tiger 1,852
7. The Secret Scripture 1,568
8. A Case of Exploding Mangoes 1,000
9. The Northern Clemency 916
10. A Fraction of the Whole 392
11. The Lost Dog 363
  A week later, they were back with this update:
Whilst Salman Rushdie’s THE ENCHANTRESS OF FLORENCE (Cape) remains the overall sales leader with an increase in book sales of 56.5% since last week, Linda Grant’s THE CLOTHES ON THEIR BACKS (Virago) has seen the biggest proportional increase. From selling just 13 copies during the week ending 26th July, the book has gone on to sell 144 copies the following week.
  Another notable increase was for Tom Rob Smith’s CHILD 44 (Simon & Schuster), one of the most controversial choices on the longlist. Sales increased by 250% for the thriller that had already shifted over 8,000 copies prior to the longlist announcement.
  CHILD 44, of course, didn’t made the Booker shortlist announced this week. Neither did THE ENCHANTRESS OF FLORENCE or Joseph O’Neill’s NETHERLAND, previously the bookies’ favourites with Ladbrokes and William Hill respectively. Sebastian Barry is now the 2/1 favourite with THE SECRET SCRIPTURE.
  I can’t find any weekly sales figures for later than the week ending August 16, but in that week THE SECRET SCRIPTURE had sold less than THE LOST DOG, which had sold 127 copies that week.
  Erm, folks? Y’think the reading public is trying to tell you something?