The Comfort of Labels

When Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty won the Booker last week, nearly every headline mentioned it was a ‘gay novel’. He talked to The Telegraph about his reactions.

Does he mind? “It really took me back, I have to say,” he says, fumbling to pour our tea through a dainty silver strainer. “I thought we’d gone beyond that sort of talk. I think when newspapers give you those sort of headlines they’re really trying to create a shock which isn’t there. The book’s principal character is gay, of course, but that’s really only one part of the story.”

People love to put labels on writers, it makes things neat and simple. In “Entr’acte,” the article I posted earlier about book prizes, there was this little snippet about this year’s NBA:

This year, the jurors for the National Book Award for fiction provoked groans by shortlisting five little-known women writers living in New York City, two of them first-time novelists. Further, of the five novels, none had sold more than 2,500 copies before it was shortlisted.

Sure, they’re little known writers, but what does their being women have to do with anything?