The verse for wear: spineless Booker puts wokeness above merit

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The verse for wear: spineless Booker puts wokeness above merit

Splitting the prize raises the question: was it about literary qualities or the correctness of their message?

Claire Allfree

Ah, the barmy Booker Prize. Despite its best efforts, each year it always ends up either looking a bit silly or forced to go on the defensive, derided for being out of touch or too populist, for picking madly obscure novels or too many winners written by Americans.

This year the judges surpassed themselves by not picking a winner at all. Instead, the £50,000 prize was divided between two novels: The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, and Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, a novel written partly in verse that links the lives of 12 black women.

It’s not the first time two authors have walked away with the prize – Michael Ondaatje and Barry Unsworth both did so in 1992, for The English Patient and Sacred Hunger, prompting the foundation to make it mandatory that, from then on, only one author could win. It realised, as Peter Florence, the prize’s long-standing chairperson evidently does not, that to dodge the issue of picking a winner only highlights the inherent absurdity of five people deciding on the year’s best book in the first place. If two authors can win, why not three authors next year? Why not all six?..

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