Horse-trading, you say? Compromise? The acceptable third choice? This would appear to be what adjudicating a major literary prize comes down to. Little more than a month after the Guardian published its exposé covering 40 years of Booker deliberations, Michael Portillo, the chair of this year’s five-member jury, explains on the Man Booker website that the eventual winner, Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger, was not a unanimous choice to take the prize.
Two other books appeared closer to certain jurors’ hearts, according to Portillo. Steve Toltz’s comic novel A Fraction of the Whole apparently split the jury along gender lines, with the men being moved to tears by one passage that was read aloud to them, while the women remained stoic. Portillo himself calls Sebastian Barry’s novel The Secret Scripture “the most beautiful book” on the list, and calls it “a glorious piece of writing with not a word misplaced.” Why, then, did Barry not win? Portillo claims that there were concerns about the book’s plot.
The final decision saw the jury presenting a united front, but Portillo still seems to feel that Barry got the shaft:
The judges made it through without “blood on the floor” (to the media’s disappointment) but we were not unanimous, except in the sense that everyone accepted the choice once made. I am entirely happy with our decision, but Barry is entitled to be disappointed.
In the end, Portillo says that “Adiga won out too because his angle seemed so fresh.” Not everyone agrees with this assessment, however. Writing in the Telegraph, Sameer Rahim says the book “reads like the first draft of a Bollywood screenplay (no romance or songs sadly),” and blogger Nilanjana Roy takes issue with the freshness of Adiga’s novel, saying that “as anyone in India who reads widely enough knows, he’s not ‘the first to go where no other Indian author has gone before’ as reviews in the west have proclaimed.”