The Booker Prize used to be the most prestigious award in British fiction. There are six finalists on the shortlist for this year's prize.
The first thing you notice is, not one of the six is British. They changed the rules six years ago. Now any writer writing in English and published in Britain is eligible. Five of the writers on this year's shortlist are American; the sixth is from Rhodesia.
That's more than averagely annoying to me. When I published my Coolidge novel here in New York in 1996, it was considered for the National Book Award. I actually got a phone call from them. Was I an American citizen? they wanted to know. I confessed that I wasn't, not yet. Oh, sorry, they said, that means you're not eligible. I was vexed, of course, but I didn't feel any injustice had been done. Rules are rules, and this rule was a fair one.
This new Booker Prize rule is not fair to British authors. They are a small minority worldwide among people writing in English. Their contributions are just getting swamped. Hilary Mantel, for instance, brought out the third volume of her Wolf Hall trilogy about Thomas Cromwell this spring—a best-seller for sure. It's not on the Booker Prize shortlist.
Why would the Booker people perpetrate such an injustice against British authors? Diversity, that's why. Worldwide, the tally of people who (a) can write English, and (b) have literary ambitions includes not only Americans but millions of Africans, Indians, Pakistanis, Caribbeans, and such. Why restrict the prize to boring white-bread Brits when there is all that vibrancy on tap?
Hence the lady from Rhodesia, who is of course black. Two of the other five are also black: one an Ethiopian-American gal, one an American black guy from Alabama. Along with the three blacks, there's an Indian-American lady and two whites, one male, one female. The white male is a homosexual (as also, by the way, is the black guy from Alabama).
The white female, incredible to say, has a husband and two kids. She looks quite normal. I'm calling tokenism on that one.
I haven't read any of these six finalist novels, and I don't intend to. Reading about them, "imaginative" is not the first word that comes to mind. That black homosexual from Alabama studied biochemistry in the Midwest. His novel is about, according to the New York Times, "one pivotal weekend in the life of Wallace, a black gay biochemistry Ph.D. student in the Midwest."
The other homosexual on the Booker shirt-lift … Oh dear, I beg your pardon: I meant to say "short-list." The other homosexual, the white one, grew up in the Glasgow slums. He describes himself as, "the queer son of a single mother who lost her battle to addiction." His novel is about a young boy growing up in Glasgow in the 1980s with a mother who is struggling with alcoholism. "A powerful, heartbreaking yet beautifully written account of poverty, homophobia and addiction," says this Scottish newspaper I'm reading.
The author now lives in New York. Would it be presumptuous of me to guess that his next novel will be about a Scottish homosexual living in New York? Probably.
Even when they're not totally self-referential, these books lean heavily to the left. The one by our token straight white lady, for example "explores a mother-daughter relationship in a world ravaged by climate change and overpopulation."
The white Scottish homosexual, talking about his book to an interviewer, said, quote, "so many people suffered through a difficult time under Thatcher in the 1980s." British lefties have an everlasting angry grudge against Maggie, parallel to the one our own commies have against Reagan.
The Alabama guy's novel, says one reviewer, quote:
crackles with the painful comedy of privilege and prejudice … His supposedly benign white friends … view him as a mirror in which to assess their own lives, often in self-congratulatory fashion.
And so on and so on. This is what gets fiction prizes in 2020. Be progressive, be transgressive, and write about yourself, yourself, yourself. After all, what else is real? Thomas Cromwell, some 16th-century dude? Why would anyone want to write about him? He probably owned slaves.
Evelyn Waugh would not be shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2020.