Yesterday the Man Booker judges made possibly the worst, certainly the most perverse, and perhaps the most indefensible choice in the 36-year history of the contest. By choosing John Banville’s The Sea, they selected an icy and over-controlled exercise in coterie aestheticism ahead of a shortlist, and a long list, packed with a plenitude of riches and delights.
The Dublin novelist, whose emotional rage is limited and whose prose exhibits all the chilly perfection of a waxwork model, must today count himself as the luckiest writer on the planet. This was a travesty of a result from a travesty of a judging process.
In the end it came down to a debate between The Sea and Never Let Me Go, and we made the right choice. The Sea was the best book of the year. It is not going to be the most popular, and after the award was presented I was immediately bearded by an irate bookseller from one of the big chains, who told me that it was a “disgraceful” decision, and that The Sea would be impossible to sell. I don’t know if that is true, and I don’t care. Banville has written a complex, deeply textured book, with wonderful, sinuous and sensuous prose. You can smell and feel and see his world with extraordinary clarity. Banville has written a complex, deeply textured book, with wonderful, sinuous and sensuous prose. You can smell and feel and see his world with extraordinary clarity.
Banville doesn’t always help his own case. A few hours before the ceremony he confided to an American journalist that The Sea was “a bad book”. With authors like that, who needs Tibor? Nor, it would seem, was Banville indulging in false modesty. He came over to London from Philadelphia on the day of the award and booked his flight for 8am the following day. He wouldn’t win. No chance. Bad book. Pack your bag.
Banville is, as I observe him, an egregiously modest writer. He is also, as I read him, an egregiously good writer.
This is almost Oscar quality bitching, but not quite there yet. The language, guys, work on it. Avoid plenitude, egregious, travesty and sinuous. Avoid bearded too, unless you want to refer to someone with excessive facial hair on the chin. You can use weirded if the person sporting the beard is not male. Sensuous is ok, use it a lot more. But please, no Joan Rivers.
In case you are wondering, I haven’t read The Sea. I am planning to go to the local bookstore tomorrow and ask them if they have “The Sea.” I have even odds on what I’ll get:
1. A C Language Primer.
2. An incredulous look.
But then, tis’ the season for long odds.
And oh, if you have time, check this short story by Falstaff out. Very cool.