The shortlist for the Best of the Bookers, the prizewinners from the past 40 years, has been announced. You may well feel that all they need to do is pick the most unreadable from 40 years of the unreadable - there are certainly possibilities there. 25 years ago, a similar vote appointed Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children and look, it features again. I remember reading it when it came out and being overwhelmed by it - but how much did I actually enjoy it? Are Bookers just Duty Reads? Books to lay out on coffee tables or put in prime positions so people will know how clever and relevant you are? I was ill a few weeks ago and had that desperate time (similar when you survey the contents of your brimming wardrobe and haven't a thing to wear, my dear), when I scanned my shelves - hundreds of books there and not a single damn thing I wanted to read. Too much hard work - I wanted a Comfort Read, not a literary, thought-provoking, enigmatic piece of exquisite prose. I wanted a Story, dammit, a humdinger of a gripping yarn, an Out of this Sickly Body experience.
Must do a proper post on Comfort Reads sometime - and I'll mention my all time favourite in that possibly undervalued genre.
Back to the Booker. Here's the shortlist: Midnight's Children as mentioned; Pat Barker's The Ghost Road; J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace; Nadine Gordimer's The Conservationist (no, I hadn't heard of it either); Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda - and one other.
The other is the one I'm going to vote for and would love to win: it's J.G. Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur, which won in 1973. If you haven't read this one, do, do, do. It's a superb satire of Victorian attitudes set during the time of the Indian Mutiny, sardonic, cruel, farcical, tense. Everybody should know about this book and quite possibly they don't, perhaps because J. G. Farrell was drowned off the coast of Ireland in 1979 - I recommend Lavinia Greacen's J.G. Farrell, The Making of a Writer (Bloomsbury 1999) about his life.