2014 Booker Prize winner

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2014 flanaganAustralian Richard Flanagan has won the 2014 Booker Prize with The Narrow Road to the Deep North, a dramatic novel centred on the experiences of the Australian prisoners of war who built the Siam to Burma railway under the cruel supervision of their Japanese captors.

While I think this year’s Booker Jury made some mistakes along the way (mainly with their choices of the first American authors to make the longlist and then leaving some very good books off the shortlist), I’d have to say they got it right in the end. I had some reservations about The Narrow Road to the Deep North, as you can read in my review, but it certainly would have been my choice from the official shortlist. And I would have had a hard time choosing between it and David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks (I promise I will get a review up soon) as my favorite Booker eligible title this year.

A final note: I think there is some irony present in an Australian win. As you can see from comments on my post when the longlist was announced, some of us were concerned that opening up the Booker to American authors was bad news for Commonwealth writers. Usually, the longlist features two or more — Flanagan was the only one represented this year, while there were four Americans in the 13 longlisted titles. I’m sure some of my fellow Commonwealth types will be joining me in cheering at the final outcome.

booker logoDespite that positive note, I continue to feel that the Booker is stumbling around, searching for a new identity. I only read seven of the 13 longlisted titles (and three of the six on the shortlist) this year — most of the rest failed to spark my interest, although I may try to get to a couple of them (such as Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others) over the winter. And I can’t help but notice that debate around the Booker, not just here but elsewhere on the web, has declined dramatically in the last few years. As one who has been following the Prize for decades now, I am eager for it to get back on track.

9 Responses to “2014 Booker Prize winner”

  1. kimbofo Says:

    Can’t tell you how delighted I am to see him win this. I spent about four hours on Twitter last night tweeting about it, and have now filled up my Reading Matters Facebook page with relevant links. Funnily enough, someone pointed out that this is the second year in a row that the Booker has been won by an antipodean writer, so perhaps all this fuss about the Americans taking over was just hot air!

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    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Well, Eleanor Catton has a Canadian passport — although even I have to admit that here antipodean connections are stronger than her Canadian ones.

      I know how keen the Australian readers like you whom I respect are on Flanagan, so I think it is great that the rest of the English-reading world has now had their attention drawn to him. I am one who will be exploring more of his work.

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      • Kerry Says:

        I would fight for Catton too, if I had a remotely plausible claim. My first thought was that this continued the nice little run of antipodean Booker wins, but you make a fair point. Happily, she has talent enough to be spread quite far before being spread thin.

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      • KevinfromCanada Says:

        I recall reading somewhere that she wrote much of The Luminaries while she was at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, so there is an American claim as well.

        I’d say she is a good example of a new generation of writers who are “global citizens” who do a lot of moving about. Flanagan, by contrast, is very much a product of his roots — as you can see from the comments, Aussie readers know him well but most of the rest of us had not hear of him until this novel.

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        • Kerry Says:

          Great points. I will take pride in Catton too. I am especially eager, though to get to know Flanagan, a highly-regarded, but only regionally well-known writer. Until now, better late than to miss the bandwagon entirely. (I am just now getting to Bolano, so a bit of a habit for me.)

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  2. kimbofo Says:

    I’ve reviewed four here, if you need some inspiration: http://readingmattersblog.com/category/author-name/richard-flanagan-author-name/

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  3. Lisa Hill Says:

    I’m not just pleased that an Aussie won, though of course I’m ecstatic about that, I’m also pleased that a *literary* novel has won. I felt exactly the same as you did about the ordinariness of some titles on the shortlist, so it wasn’t clear which direction they might take with the winner. If the Flanagan is a signal for the future, perhaps the Booker will get its mojo back, regardless of the origins of its authors.

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