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Brit literary judges gone wild: the Man Booker edition

Although it apparently comes as a surprise to some sensitive souls in this country, British literary types tend to be fairly plain-spoken; no less so when they are sitting on an award jury. Almost two weeks to the day after 2009 Scotiabank Giller Prize judge Victoria Glendinning complained in the Financial Times about “the muddy middle” of CanLit, a juror for another prominent literary prize has gone on record with his feelings about the books he read.

Micheal Prodger, the literary editor of the Sunday Telegraph, and a juror for this year’s Man Booker Prize, yesterday used his pulpit to opine that although this year’s Booker shortlist “has been widely received as the strongest for years,” there was no shortage of “competent and/or dull novels” that made him “begin to lose the will to live.”

Decrying what he sees as a tyranny of competence, Prodger says that the “endurance test” of reading as a Booker juror “prove[s] that some authors can genuinely write while others merely string words together”:

Partly, I suspect the omnipresence of the competent is the result of the numerous creative writing courses offered by universities. There is a quickly recognised type of novel that results: adequately written, with a workmanlike structure, a serviceable plot, and so on. What can’t be taught are daring and originality and it was the lack of these qualities that was too often immediately obvious. There is, after all, nothing more dispiriting than a mediocre literary novel.

Although there is a bit of hyperbole here, it is nonetheless interesting to observe a literary culture that allows vibrant critical discourse to flourish without inciting a backlash of bruised egos.