The Man Booker Prize could be going the way of the Baileys Women's Prize, formerly the Orange Prize for Women—an award where British authors once thrived, but now play second fiddle to Americans. At least that's the bleak future predicted by novelist Julian Barnes, who won the Booker in 2011 for The Sense of an Ending. During an interview with BBC Radio 3's Essential Classics, the author spoke against the expanded Man Booker Prize, the top literary fiction award given in the UK, the commonwealth and Zimbabwe, leading up to announcement of this year's award.
"The danger of opening it up to American writers, even if they have to be published in Britain, is visible in the Orange Prize," Barnes said, referring to what is now called the Baileys Women's Prize. "The Orange Prize is, rightly, only open to women, but it's open to Americans and Americans won it for the last five times." The last Brit to win was Rose Tremain in 2008, for her 14th novel The Road House.
Barnes also argued that the Booker Prize has been a way to promote emerging novelists, like "a Zimbabwean novelist, female novelist," he said, referring to NoViolet Bulawayo (perhaps she's not emergent enough for her name to stick), whose We Need New Names was shortlisted for the 2013 prize. This year's shortlist is a mix of new and old, but long time novelist Jim Crace is expected to win (if you trust the bookies) for his final novel Harvest.
Since the Booker trustees dropped the expanded prize bombshell last month (any author writing in English and published in the UK is eligible, regardless of nationality) most of the response from Brits have been negative. Last month Lady Antonia Fraser quit an informal advisory board for the International version of the Booker Prize, given every other year for a writer's complete body of work. The general consensus is that this will be bad for British authors, who might be shut out by Americans.
"I was surprised, because I'd never heard of anyone in the publishing world talk in favor of such a move. I don't know quite where it came from. Maybe from the top. Maybe it's just an example of capitalist expansionism. Okay, Barnes, but tell us how you really feel. "I think it's generally a bad idea," he said, later adding, "Time will tell. I wish I could be more optimistic though."
(Barnes images via AP Photo.)