Prize fighting: Gloves off in the merit vs message debate

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Prize fighting: Gloves off in the merit vs message debate

Literary awards are prone to the political and social tastes of the times in which they are announced

Tymon Smith

The Booker Prize has not been without controversy in its 50-year history. Leaving aside whether or not its judges have always given the award to the objectively best book of any year, the prize has twice before been shared. Once in 1974 when Nadine Gordimer’s The Conservationist shared the award with Stanley Middleton’s Holiday; and again in 1992 when Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient and Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger split the prize money.

After 1992 the Booker’s committee introduced a rule that the prize could not be shared and would have to be awarded to a single author only.

This year’s judges rejected the single winner rule – in spite of two directives from the prize’s literary director, Gaby Wood. The award was thus shared by Canadian author Margaret Atwood for The Testaments, and British author Bernardine Evaristo for Girl, Woman, Other...

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