2010 Booker Prize winner

Well, it is another year that shows why I will never be a Booker Prize judge — I pronounced Harold Jacobson’s The Finkler Question a disgrace and it goes on to win the prize. I even gave it a second effort and could find nothing to recommend it then.

But I must admit that others did. So you can troll back to my thoughts (obviously discredited) or read a much more enthusiastic review at The Asylum where John Self saw his faith in the author renewed and confirmed by this year’s Jury.

And I would also have to say that a number of other readers whom I respect found strength in this novel that I did not. Sometimes we bloggers just have to admit that we are out of step.

Stay tuned for the 2010 Giller — I have always had better luck with those juries. Sorry about the bad advice on The Finkler Question.

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24 Responses to “2010 Booker Prize winner”

  1. Max Cairnduff Says:

    You wrote an honest review Kevin, that can never be bad advice.

    I was happy with the result, but I did think his speech a touch ungracious. Perhaps I missed the joke though.

  2. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Max: Well, I said what I thought, but part of me regrets that I did not contemplate why others would find value in the book, as they obviously did. I didn’t see the speech, so I can’t comment on that.

    I will spend some time thinking about why Booker juries and I can agree on shortlists but not on the winner.

  3. dovegreyreader Says:

    Take heart Kevin and have no regrets, you are becoming a very reliable barometer for the Booker winner :-)

  4. KevinfromCanada Says:

    dgr: Right. If I like it, forget it. If I don’t, head to the bookie. Sigh.

  5. Max Cairnduff Says:

    Who would you have given it to again?

    I don’t rate The Road nearly as highly as others. My review of it is in places quite critical. I don’t regret that, there’s plenty of countervailing views and while mine is a minority view it remains the one I have. Readers are free to ignore my view, compare other views, comment, challenge, be mystified by why I can’t see it as a classic, be persuaded, be offended, my view alone won’t shape its sales or reputation.

    I give thought to what I write, and I know you do. As a reader of blogs, that’s really all I ask for. As long as what you write is considered and truthful, whether others agree is ultimately a matter of taste. Many disagree with me on The Road, that’s fair enough, but I’m comfortable with what I wrote.

    It would have been nice to see the genius others do, but I don’t so what can you do?

  6. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Max: I would have given it to Galgut, although I can understand why it did not win. Some would object that it is more memoir than novel (raising issues with Coetzee’s Summertime from last year). Others see it as three linked short stories — I don’t. My second choice would have been Andrea Levy’s The Long Song, but again I can understand why people would find serious flaws in it.

    I think my problem with The Finkler Question is that those who like it find the first part very funny, and I did not. That made the second half very tedious for me — I can see how people who like the humour would have a different response. I hesitate to suggest it but I think those who like it come from a very “English” perspective (that is an observation, not a criticism) and found much more in the book than I did.

    I am not jumping up and down with unhappiness about the outcome (as I was two years ago when The White Tiger won) — this book has value but it simply did not work for me.

  7. whisperinggums Says:

    LOL Kevin. It just goes to show that you are your own man, and there’s nothing wrong with that. How boring if we were all … yada yada yada.

  8. whisperinggums Says:

    BTW The whole memoir-novel thing is an interesting one. I don’t get too het up about a novel being “more memoir” because, for example, how good are our memories and how much do people really divulge? In other words, isn’t much of what passes for memoir somewhat fictional anyhow? I haven’t read Galgut – clearly I should.

  9. Guy Savage Says:

    It wasn’t bad advice at all. Different strokes and all that. I know I wouldn’t enjoy the novel–just not my taste

  10. KevinfromCanada Says:

    WG: I think the same as you do on the memoir issue — parts are what the author remembers and parts are what he is making up. I call that fiction.
    Guy: Obviously not my taste either.

  11. Craig D. Says:

    At least literature geeks are far more understanding of minority opinions than movie geeks. Try telling one of them that you didn’t like “The Dark Knight” and see what happens.

  12. Lee Monks Says:

    Kevin – that you’re an excellent reviewer of fiction there’s no question about. You shouldn’t bother pulling yourself up over such a divergence. It makes the whole blogscape that much more interesting.

    Craig D. – there were problems with The Dark Knight, swiftly to name the main one: the Joker is far more interesting and compelling than Batman, the latter being such a monotone presence as to be a circumstantial good-guy. Did I love the film? Certainly.

  13. kimbofo Says:

    Having listened to the two commentators on the BBC coverage last night, it appears that any book that divides opinion between the judges won’t win it, but a book that all of them more or less agree on, even if it is just lukewarm, has a much better chance of taking the prize. The literary editor of the Guardian called it right, just moments before the announcement she predicted it would be The Finkler Question.

  14. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Craig, Lee: I would like to think that a good reviewer can dislike a book in a way that causes others to think “I’d probably like that” — certainly my favorite drama critics do that for me.

    Kimbofo: When the shortlist was announced, John Self did suggest that The Finkler Question could be a compromise winner, which turned out to be prescient (if it was in fact a compromise). As I noted then, Margaret Atwood (with quite a bit of experience as a judge) has said that five-member juries produce compromises, while three-member ones opt for edgier winners (it being easier for two to leverage one, than three to leverage two).

    • RickP Says:

      Kevin, Kevin, Kevin,

      I enjoy your reviews and opinions but don’t always agree with them. You did come out strongly against The Finkler Question and that definitely influenced my desire to read it. Of the 11 longlisted novels I read, I finished it 10th.

      Like you, I would have given the prize to Galgut. Jacobson was 2nd choice so I’m not disappointed.

      I think taste becomes even more divergent when humour is brought into the picture. I did find the first half of this book to be especially funny in the way that I find Philip Roth funny. I found the origin of the title to be quite funny. I found the attitudes of Treslove’s ex-girlfriends to be amusing. I found Treslove’s crazy response to his life altering mugging to be very funny and somewhat reminscent of Roth’s Zuckerman deciding to become a doctor in The Anatomy Lesson.

      Humour is so subjective. Example: I hated every second of Vernon God Little and many people found it to be very funny.

      I, for one, enjoy reading your blog and respect your opinion. You’ll disagree with general opinion from time to time and that’s a good thing.

  15. KevinfromCanada Says:

    RickP: Your explanation of why you liked The Finkler Question is an excellent thumbnail summary of why people liked the book — and also offers hints on why it passed some of us by (I should observe that I am not the only one who found it wanting). And just to complete your point, I am one of those who quite liked Vernon God Little.

  16. Tom C Says:

    I read the FQ and said that I didn’t think it was up to prize winning. I found it rather tedious and too fixated on the inner thoughts of a rather dull person who I didn’t take to. Why do we bother following prizes? The book world is so diverse its highly improbable that any committee will come up with a “must-read” selection.

  17. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Tom: I saw your review of FQ — you were kinder than I was, but I think we had similar responses. I think if the book grabs you quickly, it works; if it doesn’t, it becomes rather tedious.

    I still like to follow prizes, even if I don’t agree with juries. I do find longlists and shortlists much more interesting than the eventual winners, because they often point me to books that I would not otherwise read. The IMPAC in particular has come up with some very good offbeat titles (although not really “must-reads”) that I would not have known about otherwise.

  18. RickP Says:

    I like the concept of IMPAC and they certainly have interesting lists. The winners are certainly an odd group. I think I’ve read the winners back to 2003 and have usually just thought they were okay.

    On reading proze winning books in general, the prizes are a good guide for someone like me who got away from reading fiction for many years and just really got engaged again about 3 years ago.

    I certainly don’t like all prize winners nor do I avoid books that don’t win prizes. I do find that the general quality of prize winning books is much higher than general literature. Often when somethign wins a prize, I might not normally have noticed it. This has given me many rewarding reading experiences that I might not have had otherwise.

  19. KevinfromCanada Says:

    RickP: I agree completely. Prizes are very handy guides and I respect them for that. Certainly, I don’t always agree but then there are very few readers (actually, none) with whom I always agree.

  20. Kerry Says:

    My congratulations, Kevin. I know it is small consolation, but your streak of disagreeing with the Booker prize jury continues…

    I really enjoyed your review and appreciate that you gave an honest, thoughtful analysis. I am with Lee Monks above, your dissenting view (not unique, as you point out) made the entire Booker conversation much more interesting and the conversation on this book far more interesting than otherwise.

    Of course, the controversy has made me more likely to read the book. Sorry about that….heh.

  21. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Kerry: Well, you probably should read the book if only to join the discussion.

  22. herschelian Says:

    I think you were smack on the button with your review of the Finkler.
    To me it seems odd, HJ was previously short listed and didn’t win, and that was a for far better book (IMHOP) so why he got it this time for the lesser book bemuses me. Suspect Kimbofo is right in her analysis. I know you favoured the Galgut – and I wanted to do so too (his agent/friend is a very close friend of mine) but I just couldn’t see it the book as a novel. Personally I would have voted for ‘C’, but as you probably know, something very fishy happened with betting on the winner at the UK Bookies… modern fiction, its a cut-throat world!

  23. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Herschelian: Thanks for the kind supporting words — people actually have been very kind in excusing me for describing the Booker winner as a novel that did not deserve to be published. Yes, the next time I want to rubbish a book, I will try to be somewhat less excessive.

    My hypothesis is that Jacobson won this year’s award because of his personality — and the fact that his novel does reflect that personality. As a Canadian, I do not get the chance to see that, but he is obviously a charming, interesting character. And when you look at thebackground of the jury you can see that most of them would have run into him at some point or another.

    I suspect if I knew him I would have seen much more in this novel than I did. My guess is that more than one judge brought that positive impression to the discussion way back in May or June — and if you start reading the book with that positive point of view, it is impressive. I am actually more puzzled by the speculation that the Peter Carey got two votes in the final round — that could only come from some strange desire to name the first three-time winner as the book is sadly lacking.

    Galgut and C both are good and both have their problems, so I can understand how a jury would reject them. Either (both) would require a powerful voice in deliberations to overcome the obvious problems (not a novel/just too murky) and neither had one. My hypothesis would be that Jacobson had a very powerful advocate.

    On the betting issue, I am guessing that someone placed a largish bet on C (in the betting world, the Booker is a small pool and that “largish” would be small on any sports bet) which attracted attention and created a snowball effect. I doubt that it had any influence at all on the jury.

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