Sunday, March 19, 2006

"...but you see they’re all so good.“

Perhaps the most interesting feature in the Financial Times is "Lunch with the FT," a report from a journalist who has dined with an interesting person. (OK, sometimes the guest is only semi-interesting.)

In the March 17, 2006 installment, Jan Dalley reports on her lunch with Martyn Goff, who has been the administrator of the Booker Prize since 1969, the year after its creation.

Interested as I am in "bad Booker beats," I relished the gossip about outwardly-disappointed Booker also-rans:
Pressed only a little by me, [Goff] revisited the well-known moments of high public emotion - the time Paul Bailey burst into tears at the table when he didn’t win (1986, Kingsley Amis’s The Old Devils won), the night when Julia Neuberger flounced out of the grand dinner to express her disgust at her judging panel’s decision (1994, James Kelman’s How Late it Was, How Late). Then the anatomically unlikely thing Salman Rushdie suggested he do to himself when they met at the door of the gents shortly after the announcement that Rushdie’s novel Shame had not won (1983, J.M. Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K) - and how Rushdie got in touch, months later, to apologise. How the famously reticent Anita Brookner ran up and hugged him in a Chelsea supermarket after her win (1984, Hotel du Lac). How Anthony Burgess was waiting in a nearby London hotel on his big night, refusing to attend the dinner
unless he’d won but ready to jump in a taxi just in case (1980, William Golding’s Rites of Passage). After Goff phoned to tell him he hadn’t won, he put it about that he’d been at home in Monaco all the time. And so on.
If some nominees need nerves of steel until the prize is announced, how about the judges? Goff shared a vignette about frustration on the selection panel from a few years ago:
Then the whole question of how the judging panel picks the winner. The year that the Oxford professor John Bayley was chair, voting reached a third round on the final day. One of the panel, exasperated beyond endurance, pointed out to Bayley that their task was to reach a decision by narrowing the field, but in each of the three rounds the Prof had voted for a different book. “Oh yes I know but you see they’re all so good.“
Were you disappointed in a Booker nominee that didn't capture the prize? Email me with your compliant.

For another report of Goff's long goodbye from his post as the prize's administrator, click here.

For the first installment of my take on "bad Booker beats," click here.

--Marshal Zeringue