Wednesday, August 23, 2006

In praise of David Mitchell

Wayne Terwilliger, an admitted "occasionally obsessive follower of the Booker Prize," graciously agreed to share his view on "bad Booker beats," i.e., novels that should have won the (Man) Booker Prize but were beat out by less deserving books.

Here's his take:

I agree with Perry Middlemiss' opinion on the 1986 prize: I've read all of the shortlisted titles from that year except The Handmaid's Tale and any of them would have been a better choice than The Old Devils (which was by no means a bad book, just a minor one).

My concurrence with Martyn Goff's assessment of the 1980 prize is even more avid. Earthly Powers is, I think, one of the outstanding British novels of the 20th century, grand in scope & incisive in characterization. Moreover, A Month in Country is also, I think, a great novel, far smaller in scope but in its way nearly perfect. Both of these books would have proven a more worthy winner than Golding's Rites of Passage (again, not a bad book but not really up to the competition).

To choose a year myself in which I think the wrong book won the Booker Prize, I only need look back two years to 2004 when the judges selected Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty over David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. I found The Line of Beauty, though well written line by line, ultimately a tedious story of small-minded people acting nastily. (Yes, one could say the same about Madame Bovary but The Line of Beauty is not of that caliber.)

Cloud Atlas, on the other hand, is simply brilliant: a technical high-wire act of styles and genres that embraces the widest scope of human history (& history still to come).

David Mitchell just wows me. He's not yet 40, has written 4 novels, been short-listed for the Booker twice and, as of last week, long-listed for a third time. I've read all four of his novels and think they are all outstanding. The scope of his imagination astounds me: no re-hashed semi-autobiographical domestic drama here. Perhaps this year, the Booker judges will make a selection with which I can't disagree.
Many thanks to Wayne for such a stimulating response to the question.

I've obviously got to catch up on my David Mitchell reading.

Wayne Terwilliger has one of those of those jobs that every book-lover (at least thinks he or she) would love to have: he's the Assistant Director of the University of Virginia Bookstore.

Click here to see the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2006 longlist.

--Marshal Zeringue