2011 Man Booker Prize winner


Julian Barnes has won the 2011 Man Booker Prize for The Sense of an Ending — and this year’s jury has salvaged its reputation with the decision. The novel was my favorite by far; my review is here but make sure you go into the comments to see how widespread the approval was for Barnes’ novel.

The Sense of an Ending is a slim, but powerful book. A strange bequest takes Tony Webster into his schooldays past and awakens memories that involve both that past and the present. Some readers found that ambiguity disturbing — I thought Barnes captured the uncertainty that Tony experienced as the process unfolded.

As much as I would have loved to see a Canadian winner (both Esi Edugyan for Half Blood Blues and Patrick deWitt for The Sisters Brothers were on the shortlist) they still have their chance as both are shortlisted for Canada’s three literary prizes — stay tuned here to see how they fare.

If you check the sidebar on the right, you’ll find links to reviews of 12 of the 13 Booker longlisted titles.

25 Responses to “2011 Man Booker Prize winner”

  1. Trevor Says:

    Well, the news I missed is that Knopf pushed publication up to last week and never sent me a copy. I’ll just have to go pay for this now — gladly, as I’m a fan of Barnes and anxious to read this. Off to the bookstore.


  2. Brett Says:

    Hello Kevin,

    I, too, was happy to hear of Barnes’ win. I thought it was the obvious choice, but with this year’s bizarre shortlist, I certainly wasnt willing to bet on it!

    You might be interested in this article, written by Gaby Wood (one of the judges), that appeared in the Telegraph. I’d be curious to hear what other readers think of what she has to say: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booker-prize/8833974/Man-Booker-Prize-Julian-Barnes-and-our-sense-of-a-happy-ending.html


  3. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Trevor: Give yourself time to read it twice — Barnes makes some wonderful observations as asides that tend to get overlooked the first time through.

    Brett: An interesting piece from Ms. Wood. I agree with what she has to say about the winner and I appreciate her arguments about both the long and short lists, although I can’t say I agree with her. With few exceptions, most of those who read all (or nearly all) of the longlist found it sadlly wanting, given what was available. Having said that, I think the jury did find the best book in the final analysis.


  4. Trevor Says:

    I thought her point that the people criticizing the list was way off. It is also typical. It seems each year the judges defend their choice by saying no one else read the books. Or if they did, well, no one else read 138 books, as if that process changes a book’s qualities. Oh well, I’m very sick of the judges. I hope next year, regardless of the inevitable negative criticism, they don’t say a word.


  5. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Trevor: Ms. Wood did refrain from commenting until after the judging was done, as far as I can tell — I agree that the jury’s engaging in confrontational debate before the process was over was not appropriate at all. And you are quite right that the “they didn’t read the books” argument runs pretty thin — those who did read the books (at least on the long and short lists) seem to be the ones who are most critical of the choice, with good reason.


  6. Guy Savage Says:

    Where’s my champagne? I think this is the FIRST time the bloody jury picked the one I wanted to win.


  7. Brett Says:

    Yes, while I found Ms. Wood’s comments quite interesting, I agree that her argument that those who criticised the judges’ short- (and long-) list hadn’t read the books doesn’t hold water. Although I haven’t read all of the longlist books or even all of the shortlist books for that matter (despite its numerous award nominations, Half Blood Blues holds no appeal for me), I have read enough great books this year that didn’t make the longlist and a couple of poor ones (Snowdrops was truly awful!) that did to feel justified in believing the judges’ choices were questionable.


  8. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Guy: You’ll have to treat yourself, I’m afraid. My record is not much better.


  9. Lee Monks Says:

    I think the result perhaps illustrates a bit of backtracking from the panel. Had they been unblemished in the press I think it might’ve gone elsewhere. Anyway, conjecture – it’s the right result in the end.


  10. Mrs.B. Says:

    I think the award is deserved. I found this book riveting and then I was frustrated by the ending but after further thought, I now get it. I just posted my thoughts at my blog http://www.theliterarystew.blogspot.com here.


  11. leroyhunter Says:

    What a strange article Brett links to.
    Why is Gaby Wood “naturally” unable to disclose the details of the judges’ final meeting? It seems to me this is a quite unnatural part of the Booker process.
    Is Susan Hill really “legendary”?
    Are the only people complaining really the disgruntled excluded authors and their respective coteries?
    Is Barnes’s book really “a masterpiece by any measure”?

    Although I will grant her that the 10-year-lookback is an interesting idea.

    I feel about The Sense of an Ending as I do about all of Julian Barnes’s books: somewhat interested in reading it but in the long run probably not quite interested enough. Certainly based on your reviews of the other shortlistees it seems like a deserved winner, Kevin. But like last year with Finkler I find myself going: so what?


  12. Deborah Serravalle Says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading these comments and the discussion/controversy surrounding the Man Booker long/shortlist.

    I’m with Trevor, it’s off to the bookstore!

    I’ll check out your post next, Mrs. B…


  13. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Lee: I’ll be generous enough to say that I think the book stands out — not just against the sorry competition that was half the shortlist, but against the many good books that failed to make even the longlist. Even the chauffeur would like this novel. 🙂

    Mrs. B, Deborah: I certainly think that those who commented here added much value and thank them for it — we had as good a discussion on this novel as we have had for any book on this blog. As I think Deborah will discover when she reads the book.

    (Aside: My fellow Shadow Giller judge, Kimbofo, was at the Jonathan Cape victory party for Barnes in London last night and ran into Leo Benedictus, author of The Afterparty. She reports that Leo remembers well the discussion we had about his novel on the blog here — you may recall that not just Leo but his father joined in. Newcomers to KfC should check the post and comments out — it is an excellent example of how good a blog discussion can be.)

    Leroy: Wood’s article illustrates another sore point, for me at least. It is as if only those already in the inner circle (jurors, publishers, authors, agents, etc.) have opinions that count (even if only to be rejected) — those of us who just spend our money to buy the books and take the time to read them aren’t part of the equation at all. And I have to agree with the observation that it seems it is quite “natural” for jurors to sell commentary pieces that include some of the details, but exclude others — e.g., if you can tell us the initial vote was 3-2 for Barnes, why can’t you say who got the 2. And was Barnes second on their list (given that some other judge, the chair I think, reported the “discussion” lasted 31 minutes you would have to think he was — which makes the whole process quite “natural” in my experience). Of course, the most “unnatural” part of transparency is that while they proudly proclaim the jury read 138 books, they won’t produce a list of what they were because publishers aren’t up to facing the ire of authors who were not submitted. Anyway, thanks for the link Brett — as you can see, it has touched a few nerves.


    • Lee Monks Says:

      I am quite sure the chauffeur would enjoy it, all the more if Dame Stella had told him to. I hear Alastair Campbell is lined up for the next one, though Norman Wisdom is on standby.


  14. Brett Says:

    Kevin, I’m certainly glad the link has provided fodder for discussion. And I agree that those of us who actually PAY for books should be ‘part of the equation.’ And I find it hard to believe that each judge, in addition to their day jobs, had time to read all 138 books that were submitted. If they did, I’m spectacularly impressed.


  15. RickP Says:

    I’m very thankful for the ultimate decision. Since I’ve been follwoing this blog, I’ve remembered Kevin saying that it’s not really the winner of prizes that matter but the strength of the list. This is usually a comment about disappointment in the book chosen as the winner but still finding a lot of value.

    This year is a reversal. Does the choice redeem the jury. It does not but it certainly salvages something.


  16. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Brett: I think the judges each gave every title a go — but I am even more certain that a number were discarded without reaching the end. And I don’t fault judges for that — forcing yourself to finish an unworthy book merely sets up a negative attitude for the next one.

    Rick: Your characterization of my attitude to prizes is entirely correct. Making the right final choice allows this jury to move off stage quietly — we can hope for better next year.


  17. Sazerac Says:

    Would it be too charitable to suggest that they had chosen their (entirely worthy) winner before even the longlist was constructed, and set things up the way they did in order to get attention for the prize from a wider than usual audience? It probably would.


  18. dovegreyreader Says:

    I’m interested in the fact that we were informed earlier in the year that some of the judges read the submissions on a Kindle. Now it’s a factor for me that this makes for a different and not always better reading experience. Much easier to give up on a book, harder to flip ahead and see whether it might be about to improve. So who knows what those judges may have given up on that may have been in with a shout and they could have fought for, whilst the subjective opinions of the judges reading actual books may have driven the process??


    • Lee Monks Says:

      I think that’s an excellent point, hadn’t thought about that (or even realised it was the case). I would guess that, in any case, a lot of books were skimmed if they didn’t grab the reader within a certain number of pages, but the Kindle aspect muddies the whole thing further. Maybe we will find out?


  19. KevinfromCanada Says:

    DGR, Lee: When you look at the previous (and current) experience of the judges, I would say that every one has a well-developed “skimming” technique. Certainly, anyone who has ever served as a book columnist or editor has to develop one within a matter of weeks — and there is a reason why reports for politicians always have “executive summaries”. I would agree, however, that having some of the novels on an e-reader would make this even more probable. When you pick up a long book like Cedilla, the weight of the book itself becomes part of the experience and expectation — for me, at least, a note on the screen that said “3%” or whatever would be almost depressing in reminding me of my lack of progress.

    I have always believed that the number of books actually read to the finish by any judge was probably somewhere between a half and two-thirds of the total. Since the Booker continues to refuse to publish a list of all the entries, we will never know but anyone who scans catalogues or publication lists is aware of how many truly bad (by which I mean unfinishable) titles must be submitted. As I have said before, I don’t think that is a bad thing. If you have to read 138 books in seven months, there is no opportunity for any kind of rest along the way. A bad book does have an aftertaste — a good, but difficult, book is going to be much harder to read with a fair attitude if you have just finished reading a 350-page one that you knew was dreadful after 50 pages.


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