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.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Booker, Danno II: This Time It’s Personal

Spare Me The Eloquence: Declan Burke On … The Booker Prize Winner

What a difference a week makes. Sales of THE GATHERING jumped by almost 900% in the week following Anne Enright’s Booker prize win, up from 649 copies one week to 5,481 the next. Better still, the controversy over whether it was the best book in the competition or only snuck up on the inside as a result of a split vote meant Enright managed to win the sympathy vote along with a big fat cheque. I bought a copy, but only because my wife’s book group had picked THE GATHERING as next month’s excuse to polish off a few bottles of Shiraz. Will I be reading it when she’s finished? Nope. The rave reviews put me off. Practically every one of them purrs about how wonderful a writer Enright is, a fabulous stylist, an elegant wordsmith, and all that jazz. Practically none of them mention the story, which is apparently about a dysfunctional Irish family with some class of a sex abuse scandal lurking in the cupboard along with the skeletons. Now, if I want to read words in their best order, I’ll read poetry. But I don’t. When I read I like a rollicking good story, something that’ll pull me in so deep that I can’t hear the iPod of the loony behind me on the 46A, who has ‘The Final Countdown’ cranked up to 11 at eight-thirty in the morning. Besides, a lot of the reaction to the book reckoned that Enright’s win would be an inspiration to Irish literary women. Which is (a) sexist to men, (b) condescending to women, and (c) ignorant of all the brilliant women writers already out there. There’s a fantastic range of new talents in the crime fiction genre alone, and collectively they offer a bewildering diversity of story types. Tana French writes from a first-person male perspective in her police procedural INTO THE WOODS. Cora Harrison writes historical novels set in the 15th century, featuring a female Brehon judge. Arlene Hunt takes on the classic private eye style, but gives it a Moonlighting twist with her male-and-female partnership. Claire Kilroy’s novels, the latest of which is TENDERWIRE, are literary thrillers. Ingrid Black’s THE JUDAS HEART was published last week, the latest in a series of post-feminist thrillers starring an ex-FBI agent on the mean streets of Dublin. KT McCaffrey writes a cracking series featuring investigative reporter Emma Boylan, even though ‘KT’ is actually a bloke. Fine writers one and all, but with this in common – their reviews concentrate on their ability to tell a story, not their flair for a poetic phrase. Good luck to Anne Enright, and hearty congrats on her big win, but she’s too good a writer for me.

This article was first published in the Evening Herald

1 comment:

crimeficreader said...

Not to detract from or devalue Enright's win - I have not read anything on the Booker shortlist for this year - but I do think the Booker proved itself to be lacking any real excitement this year. It's almost like "welcome and have some champagne" but the bottles had been opened 24 hrs before...

Perhaps the comments of the Chairman of the judges and literary newspaper hacks served to add some fire to proceedings, but all in all it was a damp squib that caught little of readers' imaginations and attention.

Sometimes the death knell croaks and I suspect the Booker prize has faced that this year. I hope the organisers take the time to perform some navel gazing and revisit what it's all about. Perhaps a clearer statement on objective and eligibility criteria will result.

Booksellers seem hell bent on "commercial" these days; courting and cosseting celeb authors and their ghosts. This all seems a divergence from support of literary talent. Then the Booker embraces one or two best selling lit authors plus a band of what can only be described as the "obscure". The latter may be really good and worth the promotion of being on the long or short lists, but it's hard to be hungry for these when that's the only balance on the lists.

Mark Lawson has written an article indicating that the Booker is about pushing the spotlight onto the less known, but you won't read that on Booker's own web pages.

Then there's the lack of crime fiction (annually, ad infinitum). Is it so hard to cut the mustard if you write in that genre? Not sure who to chuck the accountability tag at here - the organisers, judges or the publishers who submit the novels for consideration - but there's a group of people out there who miss the sailing of the RORO ferry every year. And hidden within the cargo on that celebratory ferry are many gems of damn good writing and storytelling. Because it's perceived as contraband it deserves to remain outside the scope of this prize?

Come on Booker, get real and broaden your horizons, I say. The tastes of the reading public should be reflected too. They ain't all bad, you know!

Finally, am I the only one to wonder occasionally at the choice of the judges? (A question not based on this year alone, I emphasis.) That's another area I think they should revisit. And when they present biographies of what they perceive to be "the great and the good" for those put on a pedastal for judging purposes, they might like to add why these judges qualify in the reading arena.

The Booker now seems to diverge from annual event of excitement to small fry exhibit with big prize and winning author very (to less) fortunate. They really need to reconnect with the reading public for next year's round, otherwise, I suspect, the death knell will croak again.