Booker Prize 2005

Despite the persistent rumors that Julian Barnes’s Arthur and George would win the 2005 Man Booker Prize, the award last night went to John Banville’s The Sea. There’s lots of coverage in the British press. The Times, for instance, provides a glimpse of the judging process:

The chairman of the judges, Professor John Sutherland, described The Sea as “a masterly study of grief, memory and love recollected”. He hailed the quality of Banville’s writing: “You feel you’re in the presence of a virtuoso. In his hands, language is an instrument.”

But he acknowledged that the melancholic subject-matter made it a “slit your throat novel” which was perhaps too difficult for some readers – and some of the judges. Professor Sutherland had to cast the deciding vote after the judges were split at the end of their one-hour judging session between Banville and Ishiguro.

“There were six novels that were all good – and then a bloody guillotine is coming down on your head in an hour. The discussion could have gone on for three days. There’s something abnormal about these novels competing. It’s very sad that you have to have a gladiatorial combat to get people to read good novels.”

Over at the Independent, Boyd Tonkin throws a hissy fit over the choice of Banville.

Yesterday the Man Booker judges made possibly the worst, certainly the most perverse, and perhaps the most indefensible choice in the 36-year history of the contest. By choosing John Banville’s The Sea, they selected an icy and over-controlled exercise in coterie aestheticism ahead of a shortlist, and a long list, packed with a plenitude of riches and delights.

And that’s just the nice part. He’s pretty pissed at John Sutherland, the chair of the judges, whom he accuses of distorting the views of fellow judges back in 1999. Read the full piece here. For a radically different take, you can also hear from the winner himself, in this BBC report:

Banville said: “Even if I’d lost I’d still think it was a good year for the Booker. It’s been a good year for fiction.

“It’s nice to see a work of art winning the Booker Prize – whether it’s a good work of art or a bad one, it’s what I intended it to be.

“I’m very encouraged that people have responded to a book that’s very carefully crafted.”

We know at least one reader who is ecstatic about the win. You can also read Mark Sarvas’s interview with Banville, conducted just a few weeks ago, over at his blog: Part 1, part 2, and part 3.