Epic Plot Twist | Daily News


Epic Plot Twist

Dear Readers, after a prolonged hibernation, dabbling in my next novel, attempting another translation, trying to teach myself to play the piano and hoping to return to nature like Thoreau by planting a few gotukola in the backyard, I’m back. But sadly, not in my usual sanguine self. Ever since I heard the Booker Prize was split between two winners this year, I have been blowing smoke like an angry dragon. I have my reasons. The Booker judges got it tragically, woefully wrong, yet again.

Reading about this year’s Booker truly felt like joining the line for ‘Less than ten’ items at the supermarket and seeing others who had at least twenty items in their carts standing ahead of me. When I grumble about this, the other customers turn and tell me, “Calm down. It’s fine. This cashier doesn’t follow the rules.” And now, I can mutter under my breath, “Like the Booker Prize judges, no doubt.”

It’s sad that the judges of this year’s award failed to follow the rule set in 1993 saying there can be only ONE winner. But, alas, perhaps envious of the Nobel committee, which recently named two winners of the literature prize — Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke — the Booker Prize committee had no qualms about announcing a shared award, albeit violating the rules. The result, as we all know by now is that the Booker went to both Margaret Atwood for “The Testaments,” her sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale,”and “Girl, Woman, Other” by Bernardine Evaristo.

The panel of five judges, this year included Peter Florence, Afua Hirsch, Liz Calder, Xiaolu Guo and Joanna MacGregor. According to Florence, chair of the judges, they had done nothing wrong. “There are rules, and the rules say there must be one winner. And I think our understanding was that this year, of all years, there is a context that both these books are heard loudly and gloriously around the world. And we wanted to celebrate both of them, and didn’t want to give either of them up. And, hence, we have two winners.”

And yet, in the Telegraph, there was a telling quote from Gaby Wood, director of the prize. “It’s not that we accommodated the jury,” she said. “It’s that the jury actively chose to reject the rules. They effectively staged a sit-in in the judging room.”

How sad can that be. After all, technically, the Nobel was sticking to its rule of awarding one prize per year: Tokarczuk technically won the 2018 Nobel Prize in literature a year late. On the other hand, the Booker Prize this year, had no rules — or rather, according to after-the-fact reports, there were rules until it was decided to abandon them so they could give two people the prize. Some critics suggest that there was a desire to honor Atwood because of her distinguished career for a book that seems important in a particular political moment. Writing in The Guardian, one of the prize’s five judges, Afua Hirsch, said as much, citing Atwood’s “titanic career” and “contribution to culture” as criteria worthy of consideration.

This is surely where the jury went wrong. For, the Booker Prize is meant to recognize the supreme quality of a single novel, not the lifetime achievements of an individual. And going by the reviews, Atwood’s book is not all that perfect. As Ron Charles writes in the Washington Post, although “The Testaments” is an exciting thriller that wraps up many questions for fans of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” it is not a particularly impressive work of literature on its own.

Taking into account that unlike the Nobel, which is a career achievement award, the Booker is for individual books, it makes sense, therefore, to be unhappy with the judges decision to split the award. I’m in total agreement with Sam Jordison, the U.K. publisher of one of the other finalists (“Ducks, Newburyport” by Evanston native Lucy Ellmann) who questions in an emotionally raw post-awards essay in The Times, a process that seems to have no rationale beyond whatever the judges decide to do in the moment. It’s a contest without rules. And it’s sad to think that the judges took into consideration external criteria — like Atwood’s long and distinguished career — instead of sticking to the contents of the books when they made their decision.

In other words, to cut this long ramble short, there should have been only one winner this year. Bernardine Evaristo. As the first black woman to be spotlighted by the Booker in its long, often dark and dramatic history, Evaristo should not have had to share the limelight with another writer, even if that writer happens to be Atwood.

I am not the only person to think so. Here is what one outraged Tweet said shortly after the winners were announced: “My only Booker take is that it is a shame that the first black woman to win has to share the glory.” Another said: “The Booker has simultaneously delegitimized its own worth and diminished the achievements of a woman of color with this rousing double win.” Others tweeted of their “One True and Worthy Winner” (Evaristo, in case you are wondering.) Even a former Booker judge who asked to remain anonymous said to the Guardian, it is a “huge disappointment that the chance to make history emphatically was passed by.”

I have no intention of saying Atwood is undeserving but had the prize gone to Everisto and Evaristo alone, it would have been an act of fully rewarding, validating, and celebrating the first black (British) woman to win the Booker Prize for “fiction at its finest”. It is heartbreaking that Evaristo—whose writing career spans two decades and eight novels—had to say this in her winning speech when the most prestigious prize for any English-language novel published in Britain was finally awarded to a Black woman during it’s fifty year history and that too, only half the prize: “I will say I am the first black woman to win this prize, and I hope that honour doesn’t last too long. I hope other people come forward now.”

Atwood and Evaristo will split the £50,000 Booker prize money. Atwood has pledged to donate her share to a Canadian indigenous charity because she is “too old” and has “too many handbags” to spend the money on herself. But Evaristo says her share of the prize will go toward paying her mortgage.

No wonder, Evaristo who deemed it “so incredible to share [the Booker] with Margaret Atwood, who is such a legend,” didn’t mince words when asked if she would have preferred to win the entire £50,000.

“What do you think?” was her reply.Final verdict: like a bunch of amateur novelists the judges tried to twist the plot way too much in the narration of the Booker Prize this year, broke the rules and ended up creating a story that could have been more satisfactory had they given it a different, happier, endingSam Leith, another former Booker judge said it best. This year’s decision to split the prize was an ‘Epic Fail’.

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