Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Booker Prize Awarded Tonight!

As some of you may know, I'm a big fan of the Man Booker Prize, an award given every year for the best fiction published in English by an author from Great Britain, the Commonwealth countries and the Republic of Ireland.

This year's winner will be announced tonight at 10 p.m. London time; I can't wait to hear if A.S. Byatt's wonderful new book, The Children's Book, will be the winner, or if it will be Hilary Mantel's highly praised Wolf Hall, or something else from the shortlist that no one expects. (I'll have my review of Byatt's book up tomorrow.)

I first took note of the Booker Prize in 1992 or 1993, when I first read Byatt's novel Possession, which won the prize in 1990 and is still my all-time favorite novel. After that, I started seeing the Booker sticker on other books and read more winners. Some of them I loved, and others I didn't. Since this year's prize is about to be announced, I thought today it would be fun to tell you about my favorite Booker winners.

The earliest Booker Prize winner I've read is Iris Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea, about a retired man of the theater who retires to a small house by the ocean. Here he plans to write his memoirs, and more specifically about the love of his life, but unexpected visitors both real and imagined keep getting in the way.

Next up chronologically is Peter Carey's wonderful- and I mean wonderful- love story Oscar and Lucinda, about a doomed and frustrated love affair between a failed preacher and an eccentric heiress, which won in 1988. This was one of my favorite reads of 2008.

After that in 1989 comes Kazuo Ishiguro's masterful The Remains of the Day, about a stiff-upper-lip English butler who has to come to terms with his employer's true nature, and his own as well. Ishiguro's book also revolves around a frustrated and very moving love story.

Possession won in 1990; 1992's winner was the gorgeously written The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje. Miles better than the schmaltzy movie (and it's hard for me to remember that this is the same Ralph Fiennes who was so amazing in the film adaptation of Oscar and Lucinda), The English Patient is a beautiful book. Just beautiful.

1998's winner was Ian McEwan's Amsterdam- and I have to tell you, I love Ian McEwan but I was really disappointed. It was great right up until the very end, this story of two friends forced to make some very difficult moral decisions, but he lost me completely with his cruel twist at the end.

In 2000 Margaret Atwood's incredible The Blind Assassin was named the winner. I wrote two weeks ago about how much I admired this very weird, creepy book.

2002's winner was Yann Martel's brilliant Life of Pi. A challenging book that people either really love or really hate, it's an arresting story about a young boy lost at sea in a rowboat full of animals. I loved it- but I know not everyone feels the same way.

2005's award brought John Banville's The Sea to my attention. I wasn't crazy at all about this one, about a man reflecting on a childhood tragedy.

Next up in 2006 was Kiran Desai's lovely The Inheritance of Loss, about an Indian family weathering political and social upheaval. I loved this book- it was one of those sweeping books rich in plot, character and elegant, literary writing.

In 2007 Anne Enright's significantly less engaging The Gathering was the winner. Not a favorite of mine, it's about an Irishwoman revisiting her childhood as a funeral approaches. Or something.

Finally, last year's winner was Aravind Adiga's brilliant The White Tiger. This is literature the way I like it- a biting satire with a complicated, unreliable and possibly amoral narrator who the reader sympathizes with nonetheless. Can't wait to read his next book, which is out now.

Whatever you think of this year's winner or those of past years, the Prize has always represented the cream of the crop of English-language literary fiction outside the United States, and while there are lots of terrific books that don't make the list, it's always a great place to start when you're looking for a top-shelf literary read.