The 2010 Man Booker prize has just been awarded to Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question. I haven’t read it yet, though I did download the first chapter or so on my Kindle and enjoyed it. It has a great beginning and a very humorous and distinctive ‘voice’. I certainly intend on reading it once I get through the pile I already have waiting to read, whenever that is!
Literary awards are a funny thing. I have a confession to make: I still haven’t managed to get past the first few chapters of last year’s winner, Hilary Mantell’s Wolf Hall. It’s not for lack of trying.
I usually use literary prize longlists and shortlists to give me some ideas about what to read, because I read a lot so constantly need new material. To get to the stage of being listed for a prize such as the Man Booker, the book must have merit. When a shortlist is released, I will read the blurbs and reviews and pick some which sound like they may be of interest to me. It is rare that I don’t finish a book – I like to see things through to the end.
However, Wolf Hall is different. I bought it last year after it won and tried to read it, but gave up after a few chapters. I then tried again a few months later, but the same thing happened. And two weeks ago, I picked it up again and decided to see it through. I know that I should like it: it’s set around the court of Henry VIII, and I am a big fan of The Tudors which introduced me to the seedy world of his monarchy in a way that school history lessons never did. It’s had universal acclaim, it’s won the Man Booker prize.
I can appreciate that it’s written well, in a very original voice. It’s a beautifully thick book, and usually I can’t wait to start books that I know will invite me into their pages for weeks to come. But it failed to engage me. If I am honest, it bored me. I didn’t feel that it had enough narrative interest to keep me struggling though the politics and various Thomases that appear. And so, after about 1/3 of the book, I gave up again, for the third and final time. I’ve heard that life is too short to drink bad wine (and I completely agree!); I say that life is too short to read “bad” books.
And of course, it’s not a “bad” book: it’s just a book that isn’t to my taste, and that’s the thing about art. It’s subjective, and you don’t have to like – or pretend to like – something that you don’t, although I think it’s fashionable to do so. I really wanted to read it, and I wanted to like it, but just couldn’t.
But congratulations to Howard Jacobson. He must be feeling absolutely amazing today. And his publishers must also be over the moon…