Thursday, October 14, 2010

howard's way

It was nice to see someone I've actually read stuff by - Mario Vargas Llosa - winning the Nobel Prize for Literature a couple of weeks ago, and so it's doubly nice to see the same happen with the 2010 Booker Prize going to Howard Jacobson. There's a suspicion that this is one of those Booker awards that's made for a body of work rather than a specific book, a sort of Lifetime Achievement award if you will, but while I haven't read The Finkler Question I have read and enjoyed quite a few of Jacobson's books, the earlier ones like Coming From Behind, Peeping Tom and Redback probably more than the later ones like No More Mr. Nice Guy and The Mighty Walzer to be honest.

One thing I was struck by in the news articles, though, was the insistence that this was the first comic novel to win the Booker. Well, I'll grant you there have been a lot of pretty po-faced Booker winners, including quite a few I'm in no particular hurry ever to read, but to say that no comic novel has ever won before is a bit of a stretch, particularly when you see Kingsley Amis' 1986 winner The Old Devils staring out at you from the list. There may well be others - I haven't read it, but I would have thought 2003 winner Vernon God Little might qualify as well.

As I've said before, critical opinion of Amis senior's work has taken a bit of a downturn in recent years, but I suspect that's a consequence of a series of books of letters and biography that reveal him to have been a bit of a shit, and an increasingly intolerant and cantankerous one in his later years, rather than anything relating to the books themselves. The Old Devils is a very different book from Lucky Jim, as befits an author who was 30+ years older when it was written, but both remain absolutely essential reading. Those are the two you really want, plus perhaps Take A Girl Like You and Stanley And The Women.

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