The Booker Prize for fiction was first presented in 1969. It was, and remains, a prize for the best novel published each year, written in English by a citizen of the United Kingdom, the British Commonwealth, Eire, Pakistan or South Africa – that is, the ‘traditional’ English speaking world except for the USA. The Booker was named after the company that initially put up the prize money – Booker McConnell Ltd, now Booker plc, an international conglomerate specialising in poultry and plant breeding, food processing and catering. It also owned an interest in the copyright of several best selling popular writers, including Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer and Ian Fleming, so it could well afford to get some kudos out of supporting more serious literature. In 2002, financial support for the prize was taken over by the Man Group, an investment and futures broking company, and the prize was re-titled the Man Booker prize.
The prize is valuable in terms of both money and prestige. Initially worth £5,000, by the 1990s it was worth £20,000. With the change of name and sponsorship, the amount rose to £50,000. But even more important, winning the prize, or even being on the short-list for it, nearly always means a huge boost to sales, which often lasts for at least the next five years. While the prize was initially much more low key, it is now surrounded by a lot of publicity, with the final judging live on TV, and bookmakers taking bets on the likely outcome. The winner achieves a lot of invaluable publicity, which is likely to flow on to both their previous and future books.
The Man Booker Prize is administered by the National Book League in the United Kingdom. There is a Management Committee, which includes sponsor representatives and people from the literary world, and an executive officer, who is also a bookseller. Each year they choose a judging panel, usually of five members, that can include writers, critics, and academics. The Chair of the judging panel is usually chosen first, and the others are chosen for balance and compatibility. A few people have been chair more than once, but the panel is usually different each year, and just about anyone who is anyone in the British literary scene has been a Booker judge. This sometimes leads to conflicts of interest – for example a husband judging his wife’s book – and the rules have been tightened to try and prevent this. An attempt to have an ordinary reader on the panel turned in practice into having a media celebrity, and this has been discontinued.
The judges all have to read over one hundred books. Publishers may submit two books each, new books by former prize winners are automatically accepted, and the judges may call for other books to be included. Out of this they choose a long list, which is then whittled down to a short list, now usually of six books. This list is made public several weeks before the final judging, which takes place at a dinner in London each October.
What sort of books are they judging between? One commentator has described the sort of books that get submitted for judging as ‘serious literary fiction’. By this he means ‘self-consciously literary novels’ intended to appeal to ‘the general reader’, who in turn is a reasonably sophisticated reader ‘with an interest in, but not unlimited time for, the leisured consumption of full-length fiction’. Those books which can be categorised as ‘genre’ fiction, such as crime writing, mystery or science fiction, are not considered appropriate Booker contenders. This has been questioned from time to time, for example by the academic and critic John Bayley ,chair of the judging panel in 1994, who said he would ‘be pleased to give the prize to a really good murder mystery or scientific fantasy … whatever had real and rare talent in its own line and is not merely modish junk’. However no genre novel of this sort has even been short-listed, thus excluding many popular writers, such as Le Carre or Ruth Rendell or Ian Rankin whose work at its best is as powerful and relevant as other books considered to be serious literary fiction. This issue was raised again after the 2004 winner was announced, but no change to this convention seems likely, and the 2005 winner is a book that the author consciously describes as a ‘work of art’.
The judgments made by the Booker judges are often controversial. Indeed it might be said that their decisions need to be controversial if they are to provide the kind of theatre that will appeal to TV viewers and potential book buyers.
Besides having to be full length novels, there are no set criteria for judgment, beyond those applied by the individual judges. But even what constitutes a full length novel can be controversial. For example, as a judge in 1971, John Fowles objected that the eventual winner, In a Free State by V.S. Naipaul, was a collection of short stories not a novel; he was so annoyed by the decision that he never again had anything to do with the Booker, or allowed his books to be entered for it. Individual judges have their own preferences, and these have to be modified to produce consensus about a winner. It is suggested that the outcome may sometimes be an agreement on a winner that was everyone’s second preference.
The sponsor of the prize has only an indirect impact on what wins, through the choice of the judging panel. However when Man Group took over sponsorship in 2002, they let it be known that they thought Booker prize novels were becoming overly long and serious, and hoped for winners that would have wider popular appeal. The chair of the judging panel in 2003, Professor John Carey, endorsed this, saying that he was in favour of ‘widening what might be looked on as the Booker’s scope’ and expressed a preference for ‘books with a strong story line, a strong plot, a compulsion to go on turning pages’. If readers’ preferences, as well as those of the judges, are to be taken into account, there is yet another level of judgement involved. What all this says about the prize going to the ‘best’ novel of the year will be further discussed in the next section. One commentator noted that winning the Booker was as much like winning a lottery as a prize.
Even before this suggestion of popularizing the prize, some people criticised the Man Booker for commercializing literature. The chair of one judging panel, John Bayley, commented that ‘Highbrow critics sometimes object that although the Booker is the most prestigious in the world of the English novel, all such prizes tend to commercialize art’. Certainly the media hype that now surrounds the prize is part of a slick public relations campaign designed to sell books (and reflect well on the sponsor). There seems to be a suggestion in this argument that overt marketing activities attach to popular books like the Harry Potter series, or the Da Vinci Code, and are therefore not acceptable for ‘serious literature’. Perhaps there are those who want to keep serious literature to themselves; if readers are only to find out about books through word of mouth or reading the right weeklies, then the market will be confined to a small group who are somehow ‘in the know’. However this argument seems naïve and a bit snobbish. Bayley goes on to say of the argument ‘I find this rubbish. On the contrary I think that fashion and pretension are the great enemies of all fine art today.’ High powered marketing is now an integral part of all book publishing and selling, for serious and popular literature alike, with or without the Man Booker Prize. But while books may be commodities, like soap powder, the enjoyment of reading a book is not like that of having the whitest washing. Nor is the act of producing a book like that of mass producing soap powder. The danger of treating books primarily as something to sell is not that too many people will buy them, but rather that books will be written in order to sell. Having a prize like the Man Booker is hopefully a way of identifying what is excellent, rather than just what might be popular. So what is it that the judges are looking for when they award the prize? Fashion and pretension? Pure pleasure? Literary worth? This is further discussed in the next section.
The winners of the Booker Prize are:
2005 – The Sea John Banville
2004 – The Line of Beauty Alan Hollinghurst
2003 – Vernon God Little DBC Pierre
2002 – Life of Pi Yann Martel
2001 – True history of the Kelly Gang Peter Carey
2000 – The blind assassin Margaret Atwood
1999 – Disgrace J.M. Coetzee
1998 – Amsterdam Ian McEwan
1997 – The god of small things Arundhati Roy
1996 – Last orders Graham Swift
1995 – The ghost road Pat Barker
1994 – How late it was, how late James Kelman
1993 – Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha Roddy Doyle
1992 – The English Patient Michael Ondaatje, equal with
1992 – Sacred hunger Barry Unsworth
1991 – The famished road Ben Okri
1990 – Possession A.S. Byatt
1989 – Remains of the day Kazuo Ishiguro
1988 – Oscar and Lucinda Peter Carey
1987 – Moon Tiger Penelope Lively
1986 – The Old devils Kingsley Amis
1985 – The Bone people Keri Hulme
1984 – Hotel du lac Anita Brookner
1983 – Life and times of Michael K J.M.Coetzee
1982 – Schindler’s ark Thomas Keneally
1981 – Midnight’s children Salman Rushdie
1980 – Rites of Passage William Golding
1979 – Offshore Penelope Fitzgerald
1978 – The Sea, the sea Iris Murdoch
1977 – Staying on Paul Scott
1976 – Saville David Storey
1975 – Heat and dust Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
1974 – The Conservationist Nadine Gordimer (joint)
1974 – Holiday Stanley Middleton
1973 – The siege of Krishnapur J.G.Farrell
1972 – G John Berger
1971 – In a free state V.S.Naipaul
1970 – The elected member Bernice Rubens
1969 – Something to answer for P.H.Newby
The Man Booker Prize for 2006 was won by the Indian writer Kiran Desai for her book The Inheritance of Loss. In 2007 the prize was won by Anne Enright for her novel The Gathering, a bleak story of a dysfunctional Irish family.
In 1993 Salman Rushdie was awarded Best of Twenty Five Years of the Booker Prize for his novel Midnight’s Children.
A Man Booker International Prize, worth £60,000, is also now being offered. The prize is awarded every two years and is open to writers of any nationality who write in English or whose works are found widely in translation. The prize is for an author’s body of work, rather than a single book. Albanian author, Ismail Kadare was named winner of the 2005 Man Booker International Prize. In 2007, it went to Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian novelist, poet and critic.
Man Booker Prize: what makes one novel ‘the best’ of the year?
The sort of books that win the Man Booker prize are part of an essentially British and Irish literary tradition that differs somewhat from developments in literature in Europe and America. And while the other countries of the old Commonwealth from which Booker winners are drawn are developing their own literary traditions, they also essentially share this Anglo/Irish heritage.
Novels tell the story of imagined events. They may be based on real events, but all the material in a novel is transformed into a new whole through the creative imagination of the writer. Writers use their writing skills to convey their creative vision to the reader. The reader’s response will depend on the nature of the vision and the skills of the writer. But that response will also depend on the knowledge, experience and interests of the reader. The critic comes into this equation by helping the reader know what to look for in a novel, giving it a context, and showing where the vision and skills work well, or are less convincing. The critic is an extremely knowledgeable reader, but no more immune from prejudice or fashion than the ordinary reader, and good critics make it clear where they are coming from.
The question of what sort of literature is ‘the best’ involves some mutual agreements between writer, reader and critic. The sort of agreements, and the balance of power between the players have changed over time. And the result is always controversial. There have been many attempts to define what is ‘best’ – including the suggestion that it is not a valid question. Both what fits into the category of serious literature, and what is considered the best of it varies with time and the perspective of those making the judgement, be they writer, reader or critic. Whatever generalizations are made, there will always be exceptions and counter arguments. Nevertheless, the broad outlines of the debate can be identified, as follows.
Looking back at nineteenth century literature in English, most readers and critics would agree that the work of writers like Charles Dickens, the Brontes or George Eliot are ‘classics’, books that are part of the British cultural heritage, and worth reading in depth. This perspective has only been achieved over time; Dickens, for example, was considered too ‘popular’ by some critics when he was writing. These writers tried to convey the realities of social conditions, individual feelings or intellectual strivings, and to show how things could be improved. They wrote as if what they were saying was true, rather than just a fictional construction. They expected the readers to benefit from finding out about these realities. By the end of the century, as religious doubt grew more common, some writers and critics suggested that literature and other branches of serious culture could take the place of religion and actually make people better, by providing uplifting experiences and ennobling emotions.
But also by the end of the nineteenth century, generational change was in the air. Material circumstances were changing rapidly, with new technologies, swiftly advancing urbanization and growing self consciousness among working people. New ways of understanding the world, drawing on the theoretical insights of Darwin, Marx and Freud, were changing the intellectual landscape. With a more ‘modern’ world came a movement of both thought and practice called ‘modernism’. Modernism looked both ways at once, seeking new ways of expression in literature, art, music and architecture that represented a break with the immediate past, but equally often looking further back for models to a time before the very changes that were creating the modern world. The first exhibition of European post impressionist art in London in 1910 is an important symbolic moment in modernism; not surprisingly it provoked passionate adherence on one hand, and passionate resentment on the other. In literature, the work of D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce and in poetry that of T.S. Eliot best captures the mixture of striving for new ways of saying things, while rejecting the popular culture of the modern world. For it was at this time that the great divide between ‘high’ culture and ‘popular’ culture’ really emerged. The newly literate ‘masses’ devoured the cheaply produced outpouring of the popular press and genre novelists, whereas the intellectuals increasingly turned inward to their own world. These tendencies were only heightened by the First World War, which smashed not merely millions of lives, but also whole social orders and the illusion that ‘modern’ meant ‘progressive’.
Modernist writers didn’t so much reject realism as believe that the new realities of a modern and fractured world required news form of realism. They were less interested in social commentary than in their own individual self consciousness. Rejecting any unifying purpose for culture in such a fragmented world led some modernists to a belief that art existed for its own sake, separate from the ordinary everyday world, and out of reach of most of those who lived in it. It also made judgements about what was good and what was not increasingly difficult, as there were so many ‘schools’ and ‘isms’, revolutionary manifestos and reactionary credos that no clear expression of what was ‘good’ literature was easily available – even to other intellectuals, let alone a general reading public.
This did not however mean that the question of standards was not important. Judgements about literature were largely made by a small circle of literary intellectuals, through the review columns of the ‘serious’ press, through small literary journals and by word of mouth. And while they might argue about the merits of particular writers or their works, they were united in agreeing that literary standards in general were being undermined by mass media and popular novels. They saw themselves as part of a small minority who were capable of truly appreciating literature and art, while the vast majority were indifferent or even hostile to true culture.
The ramifications and developments arising from modernism continued to affect serious literature until at least the Second World War. Books written in different styles, expressing very different views of art and life, different political messages, or no obvious political messages at all, could all be lumped under the banner of modernism. What distinguished them from ‘old fashioned’ writing was that they were in some way experimental, rejecting previous models – even other modernist ones – and reflecting a personal response to the sense of disillusionment with human progress ushered in by the First World War and reinforced by the great depression and the rise of fascism. Of course plenty of books were written that were not modernist; this was the great age of the popular romance and the detective story, though even these were not all immune from some aspects of modernism, as can be seen, for example in Eric Ambler’s spy stories.
The cataclysmic events of the Second World War had a huge influence on literature. The Holocaust, the Cold War and the possibility of nuclear annihilation, the horror at the failure of liberal values in Europe, and Britain’s sharp decline as a world power, all cut the post war period off from literary modernism. High culture had, after all, had no ennobling effect on people and had co-existed quite happily with German and Italian fascism. Soon after the war, the term ‘post-modern’ began to be used to describe the values and culture of post-war Western society. In the words of George Steiner, ‘We come after … After the unprecedented ruin of humane values and hopes by the political bestiality of our age’. The term was initially used to differentiate the post war situation from pre-war modernism, but it has now come to have a meaning – though still a very general one – in its own right, and this is further discussed below.
In the short term, post war writers turned to existentialism or to realism. Existentialism was a French movement of thought suggesting that in an age of inhumanity and futility, all one could do was to strive to act in an ‘authentic’ way, that is, a way true to your self. Camus and Sartre were the standard bearers of existentialism in literature, and British writers like Samuel Beckett, Iris Murdoch and John Fowles were all influenced by these ideas. Other writers, rejecting the emphasis on inner life that had marked modernism, turned to writing about the realities of daily life – class, poverty, ambition, love – often set in unglamorous provincial settings.
Now that the modernist period seemed over, it was perhaps easier to evaluate modernist literature. One of the great contributors to this was F.R. Leavis, who taught at Cambridge after the war. He thought that few people fully realised the potentialities of human experience, and wanted to extend the number who could through the moral power of serious literature. He believed this power to be of crucial importance, despite what some of the ‘art for art’s sake’ modernist writers he admired might have though. However he considered that very few writers had this moral power in full, and constructed a literary ‘cannon’ or, another of his phrases, a ‘great tradition’ that consisted of Jane Austen, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad and D.H. Lawrence. These were the great writers against whom other writers should be judged. They were great not just because of how they wrote, but because of the moral value of what they wrote. Leavis said,’ I don’t believe in any “literary values”, and you won’t find me talking about them; the judgements the literary critic is concerned with are judgements about life’.
This view of the ‘Great Tradition’ became extremely influential, and books by these writers increasingly appeared as the backbone of English literature syllabuses in universities and senior schools right round the commonwealth. Generations of readers grew up with the view that great books had moral worth. This pretty well excluded popular literature, most of which was ‘moral’ in the sense that crime didn’t pay and virtue was rewarded, but lacked the high moral seriousness of proper literature. Thus in the post-war years, literary taste came to be dominated by the universities, rather than the literary elite of the pre-war years. Almost no contemporary literature was taught in English courses at this time.
It is not possible to generalise about the kind of serious literature produced in the 1960s and 1970s – it was varied and followed no particular school or direction. Many notable writers flourished during this time, including Iris Murdoch, William Golding – who later won a Nobel Prize for literature – Doris Lessing and Angus Wilson. The first Booker prize in 1969 went to none of the major writers (though to be fair, only Murdoch had had a book published in 1969). The choice of P.H. Newby’s Something to Answer For, about the impact on a character of the British invasion of Suez, was considered rather conservative; Murdoch and Golding both won the prize in later years. However what is often considered the most notable book of 1969, John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman, did not even make the short list.
The French Lieutenant’s Woman is notable because –as well as being very popular – it is often seen as the first truly ‘postmodern’ English novel. Fowles himself never used this word as a description of his book, preferring to see it as an existentialist work – though of course it can be both. It is claimed as postmodern in the full sense of the word because it questions the nature and conventions of fiction. It plays with old literary conventions, it allows the author to become part of the story, it has two alternative endings between which the reader may choose, and above all, it admits to being fiction – that is – the product of the writer’s imagination, which he can play with as he chooses. This represents a change in the balance between writer and reader, and the reader has to understand that new conventions of what constitutes the novel are being established here – including being able to choose the ending.
Though it had been used on and off since the war, the term postmodern only fully gained currency in the 1980s as applying to a whole way of looking at culture. By the 1980s, there had been a major change in the way critics thought about culture, including literature. Even while Leavis’s definition of serious literature as morally valuable prevailed, some critics had begun to pay attention to popular culture. Raymond Williams and Richard Hoggart, both aspiring to improve the position of the working class by democratising culture, began the first serious studies of English popular culture. They weren’t claiming the same status for it as that enjoyed by high culture, but they were giving it a legitimacy it had previously lacked. Feminism in literature also tended to elevate popular culture. At first feminists celebrated great female writers and found others whose work had been neglected. They wanted to show that women’s place in high culture had been undervalued; they continued to scorn popular literature and those who read it. However quite quickly some feminists rejected this as lacking in understanding of the circumstances of the readers of popular fiction – many of them women – and more serious attention began to be given to the writers of popular women’s fiction.
Popular culture meant much more than books. Films, TV shows, reportage, comics, song lyrics, all became subjects of study. And the study of them often took place in what had once been English departments in universities, and were now departments of cultural studies. Instead of studying Leavis’s cannon, students were likely to find themselves comparing the film Blade Runner with the film Lord of the Rings. But the question that immediately arises is on what basis could judgements of popular culture be made?
None of this would have been possible without a profound shift in prevailing ideas about cultural values that occurred at this time. It wasn’t so much that new values were adopted; it was rather that, in a long debate about what did have value, the answer that things have only the value we give them came out on top. Some commentators suggest that the reason for this can be found in the material circumstances of the time – that postmodern culture matched the shift in the West to global post-capitalism, based on information and communications technology, and service industries rather than manufacturing and the conscious cultivation of mass consumerism. Certainly the French thinkers such as Foucault put a strong case that neither moral nor cultural values had any universal basis, and could only be understood as relative to the observer, their meaning infinitely ‘deferred’ back through a series of value judgements. This inevitably blurred the boundaries between high and popular culture, and between art and everyday experience. Where Leavis had valued literature for what is said about life, new critics accepted that literature would be self reflexive – commenting on itself – playful, derivative, eclectic and pluralistic. Each ‘text’ simply existed in its own right, and could have no value outside itself.
Part of the postmodernist vision was an emphasis on ‘otherness’ – being distinct or different from that otherwise experienced or known. This interest meshed well with the attempts to carve out a new voice being made by English speaking writers in post-colonial societies such as India or the West Indies. A new category of ‘post-colonial literature’ emerged, focusing on the experience of the colonized, not the colonizers, as had previously been the case. Gender ‘otherness’ was another area of interest, and writing from a gay perspective became increasingly acceptable, along with a theoretical justification offered by ‘queer theory’. A third major area of ‘otherness’ was magical realism, where magical elements appear in an otherwise realist setting. All this set off an explosion of creativity.
The Booker judges moved cautiously into this new world. Their choices reflected the increasing variety of literary approaches being taken by writers. Early prizes went to established writers like V.S. Naipaul and Nadine Gordimer and to stars like Murdoch and Golding. The first really ‘postmodern’ choice was that of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children in 1981. This was ‘other’ in many ways; most obviously it was post-colonial, and magical realist, though Rushdie said of it that English readers might see it as a fantasy, but Indian ones would see it as history – a postmodern comment in itself. But beyond this, it is postmodern in its conception of narrative – which is that narrative is unreliable – in its methods of narration, sometimes in the first person, sometimes in the third person, and in its language, which is quirky, jokey and allusive. The narrator, Saleem Sinai, explains that he has ‘problems with reality’. Born on the stroke of midnight of the day of Indian Independence in 1947, Saleem has supernatural powers, but they seem only to have brought disaster on him. He works in a pickle factory; ‘sometimes, in the pickles’ version of history, Saleem appears to have known too little, at other times too much’. Rushdie openly espouses postmodernism; ‘Trying to suggest that Homer and Homer Simpson are the same kind of thing…there are still people who really resist that stuff, but for me it just seems natural,’ he says . ‘If I like The Simpsons and I like The Iliad, why shouldn’t I talk about them in the same sentence?’
The postmodern emphasis on ‘otherness’ has tended to play down the importance of the everyday and the ordinary. But there have continued to be writers who are in no way postmodern and who do deal in fairly traditional ways with the lives of ordinary people. The ordinary crises of birth and death, love and hate, marriage and divorce provide material that helps explain their own world to the reader, or pleases or sustains them. The best of these books may find their way onto a Booker shortlist. Many others, especially by women writers, are derided or ignored by critics but still find a wide readership.
Since 1981, most of the Booker winners have shown the influence of postmodern conceptions of the novel, though perhaps it could be argued that the postmodern mood is so all encompassing that few literary styles or preoccupations fall outside it. But in all this multiplicity, how are judgements made about merit? If everything is relative, no style or preoccupation can be more valued than any other. In practice, of course, this is clearly not true. There is still a hierarchy in literature, in which some books are considered ‘serious’, and therefore potential Booker contenders, and others, such as detective fiction, are not, no matter how good they are. And the judges do apply criteria, even though these are rarely made public. It is likely that they are a personal mixture of the literary skills, the novelty of the content (novels are after all supposed to be ‘new’), and the coherence of the writer’s creative vision. That vision need not affirm any values, be uplifting or improving, but it must irradiate the whole work. And, since Man Group became the sponsor, the likely popularity of the book may be a factor as well, though no doubt the market has always played a role in the judges’ decisions. Man denies it has any influence on the result.
This issue of ‘the market’ raises the question of how readers have responded to the impact of postmodernity on the novel. Despite competition from films, television and the internet, novels continue to sell well. The highest sales are still overwhelmingly achieved by genre novels, including romances and action thrillers like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Others read good genre novels and the ‘middlebrow’ fiction of the ordinary world. And there are probably readers who consider themselves part of a literary elite and who would never bother with an ‘airport novel’, even on a long plane flight. But many people now read a range of fiction, and serious fiction of the Booker variety continues to sell well. Sales are partly a factor of the amount of publicity that publishers and booksellers organise for a book, but ‘word of mouth’ publicity is still important, and this depends on the reader really having liked the book.
In his recent book What Good are the Arts, Professor John Carey, himself a Booker judge, concludes that a work of art is what someone thinks is a work of art. He denies that there is any way of assessing the moral or ethical impact of a so-called work of art beyond the impact it makes on the individual. Attempts to argue otherwise, he says, are the elitist projections of those who want to think themselves better – more sensitive to form or beauty – than ordinary people. But he also suggests that literature is superior to the other arts, and is valuable because it can enrich people’s lives. He does not go back on his assertion that value in the arts is relative, but gives his own definition of literature, and demands that others also think out the issue for themselves. His definition is ‘writing that I want to remember – not for its content alone, as one might want to remember a computer manual, but for itself: those particular words in that particular order’. Some commentators have suggested that underneath it all, Carey really does value literature for its humane effects, but just doesn’t want to admit it. However his point is still worth considering: all readers bring their own preoccupations and values to what they read, and their judgements about which books they like will reflect this. For all the postmodern emphasis on the relative nature of culture and morality, and therefore the divorce between them, many readers will still most enjoy what they find elevating to their spirits, and this will very likely involve the triumph of humane values over inhumanity and cruelty. Of course some may value books that extol greed, selfishness or materialism. Some readers will look to expand their experience through reading about other values and cultures, testing their own against them. And others will wish to better understand their immediate world. Seeking a heightened understanding is an assertion of value in itself. No doubt Carey is right that an appreciation of high culture has not necessarily made people more kind or moral, but the very fact that he thinks the pursuit of literature worthwhile suggests that he still has hopes of it.
In coming to our own conclusions about merit, postmodern culture is both a help and a hindrance. It is a help, because if there is now no established cannon; readers can make up their own minds what is good literature, and what is not. And if they want to read something they don’t consider serious literature, just for the fun or excitement of it, then they understand the choice they are making. It is a hindrance because like any movement, it in fact gives priority to certain forms and tastes, whatever it claims about the relativity of judgment. (To paraphrase Orwell: all readers are equal, but some are more equal than others.) But what shows depth to some looks pretentious to others; what is lyrical to some is wordy to others; what is playfull and whimsical to some is just silly to others. Readers may be guided by critics, but should not be dominated by the prevailing critical view, and this is more difficult than ever because of power of the publicity machines that now back certain books. And so with the Man Booker Prize winners.