This came out a month back, but we’ll highlight it once more anyway in case anyone missed it. The Guardian has talked to one member of each Booker jury for the past 40 years, asking for the scoop on how each shortlist and winner was decided. It’s funny and fascinating reading, and since hell will freeze over before we see similar candour from Giller jurors, this will have to satisfy us here in Canada.
Quillblog’s favourite story is the one Ion Trewin tells about the 1974 prize. Juror Elizabeth Jane Howard pushed hard to get Kingsley Amis’s Ending Up onto the shortlist. Trewin and A.S. Byatt, the third juror, agreed, but with some misgivings, since Howard was in fact married to Amis. When it came time to pick the winner, Trewin writes, Howard “remained keen on Ending Up, but realising that neither Antonia nor I would countenance it winning, she concentrated on Stanley Middleton’s Holiday, a study of middle England that she saw as a ‘perfect miniature.’” (Holiday ended up tying for the win with Nadine Gordimer’s The Conservationist.)
If one overall theme emerges, it’s that few jurors’ minds are changed in the deliberations. As James Wood (1994) puts it:
But the absurdity of the process was soon apparent: it is almost impossible to persuade someone else of the quality or poverty of a selected novel (a useful lesson in the limits of literary criticism). In practice, judge A blathers on about his favourite novel for five minutes, and then judge B blathers on about her favourite novel for five minutes, and nothing changes: no one switches sides. That is when the horse-trading begins.
Hilary Mantel (1990) came out of her own experience equally skeptical:
I’m glad I was a Booker judge relatively early in my career. It stopped me thinking that literary prizes are about literary value. Even the most correct jury goes in for horse-trading and gamesmanship, and what emerges is a compromise.