News of the week

Man Booker Prize, Robert Galbraith and new faith in New Zeland’s legal system

Marlon James-A Brief History of Seven Killings retouché

Good evening!

So many things happened last week that I am really excited to present you this News of the week’s article.

 

I’d like to start with the winner of the Man Booker Prize. Yes, I know, all the newspapers have been talking about it for the whole week but as I have followed from close this year’s Man Booker Prize process (the longlist and then the shortlist), mainly thanks to this year’s Man Booker Vloggers (the wonderful Jen Campbell, Leena Normington, Jean Menzies, Lauren Whitehead and Ariel Bissett), I really feel like telling you how I feel about its conclusion. As you all know by now, the 2015 Man Booker Prize was awarded to Marlon James for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings, published by Oneworld.

I have to say I did not expect at all this novel to win the prize. I expected the Prize would be awarded to Nigerian author Chigozie Obioma for his debut novel The Fishermen (it is a very original and almost magical novel putting the idea of fate at the forefront of its plot) , to Sunjeev Sahota’s novel The Year of the Runaways (a novel about Indian characters migrating to England in the 1960’s, because its bold subject obviously echoes the actuality and at the same time migration has always been an universal subject) or to A Little Life by American writer Hanya Yanagihara (it was apparently the bookmakers’ favourite and from what I heard it is a harrowing book that strongly moved its readers)… Two other books completed the shortlist of this year’s Man Booker Prize: Satin Island by British author Tom McCarthy and A Spool of Blue Thread by American writer  Anne Tyler. To be honest I had never really believe these novels would win the prize because the first one was probably too innovative in its non-narrative form and the other one, on the contrary, too classic in its form and theme.

So the announcement of the winner came as a surprise to me – but a delicious surprise. Another reason why I was so excited to hear the result of the prize and discuss it with you is that I had the chance to attend a great event last Monday, the day just before the Man Booker Prize winner was announced. Indeed, I attended The Man Booker Prize Reading night organized by the London Literature Festival and this was just incredible. All the shortlisted authors were there to read an extract of their book, and this was very interesting to discover their novels (yes, I have not read any of these novels for now but of course all of them (apart from Satin Island maybe) are on my to-read-list!) through their voices. Marlon James’s reading was very rhythmic and “physical” if I may say, and I believe it fits his book quite well. What was also extremely interesting was the fact that the presenter also asked some questions to the authors after their reading. That was a good opportunity to hear about the novels, the circumstances of their creation and the authors’s sources of inspiration.

As I was saying, I was surprised but delighted to hear that the Man Booker Prize had been awarded to A Brief History of Seven Killings. This novel, which is everything but short (it is almost 700-page long), fictionalizes a real-life event, the assassination attempt on the person of Bob Marley in 1973. A big part of the book is set in Jamaica, in the Kingston of the 1970’s, and the plot stretches out until the 1980’s, the last part of the novel being set in the United States. It is a polyphonic novel featuring more than 70 characters who become narrators of this novel’s sharp and short chapters. These characters are as varied as FBI agents, gangsters, singers, drug-dealers… It is of course action-packed, full of twists and very violent (there are way more than 7 killings in the whole novel and the sex and rape scenes are also quite frequent apparently). Its style is also quite original and crude: there is much swearing and a lot of chapters are written in Jamaican patois or in non-standardized English. Because this novel is bold and audacious in its form and subject, as the jury emphasized, I am glad it won the Prize, really glad. I know this is a book I need to read (even though it didn’t seem especially appealing to me at first, and that’s one of the good points of this Prize I guess). One last thing deserves to be emphasized: this is the first time a Jamaican writer wins the Man Booker Prize and this victory is even more striking if we consider that Marlon James is a gay writer who has been living in the United States for 7 years and who said he could not have written this novel if he had still been living in Jamaica. Hopefully this victory will help to make things change…

 

Let’s switch now to news which are probably not proper news, sorry guys! I have just read a very interesting article from The Independent about how J.K. Rowling was forced to reveal that she was the author behind the pen name Robert Galbraith. This happened 2 years ago and I am not really sure if the circumstances of this revelation had been made public at this time but as for me I didn’t know anything about that and would like to share this piece of information with you in case you are as ignorant as me! Robert Galbraith’s (aka J.K. Rowling) first novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, was published in April 2013 under this pen name and it is only 3 months later that the entire world discovered that this unknown author actually did not exist: Robert Galbraith was J.K. Rowling! Obviously the book’s sales took off from that moment. Only 1,500 copies had sold in the first three months after the book was released and  The Cuckoo’s Calling has now sold 1 million copy since the revelation. Its publisher, Little, Brown, even had to reprint 140,000 extra copies after the revelation!

However, it seems that J.K. Rowling did not intend to reveal that she was the author of the book at all. She said she was “disappointed” by her leaked identity and took Christopher Gossage (one of the partners at Rowling’s solicitors) and Jude Callegari (Gossage’s friend who actually leaked J.K. Rowling’s identity via Twitter) to court. She was so decided to publish her crime novels under cover (she said she was “yearning to go back to the beginning of a writing career in this new genre, to work without hype or expectation and to receive totally unvarnished feedback”) that she played the game to the end and sent her manuscript to several major publishing houses, whereas she had already struck a deal with Little, Brown, and received several rejections, including one from Orion.

Even if I heard that J.K. Rowling’s crime books are extremely well-written and that she has a real gift for creating great and twisted plots, I actually believe that this was a happy coincidence for her to have her identity leaked…  And also for the readers, who probably wouldn’t have looked at her books if they had not known she was their writer and probably missed something. Sometimes chance makes things well, doesn’t it?

 

Finally, I would like to get back to something I had previously mentioned in this article: the temporary ban of the young adult novel Into the River by Ted Dawe by The New Zealand Film and Literature Board following the complaints of a Christian charity, Family First. Because the book featured sex and drug-taking scenes, the Board had temporarily banned it, which meant that the book could not be sold nor exhibited or promoted in New Zealand, and many booksellers and people from the book industry had strongly reacted against this unfair banning. Well, great news my friends, the Board lifted the ban yesterday, stating that even if the books describes some “unacceptable, offensive and objectionable” behaviours, it “does not in any way promote them”. This decision is hugely reassuring (even if the ban should never have been issued in the first place, let’s not forget it!) and Ted Dawe told The New Zealand Herald yesterday that he was “thrilled” by this decision, which restored his faith in his country’s legal system. In the end, this unfair censorship allowed this novel to get more attention than never from the general public and this is great. Sorry, Family First!

If you have any news to share with me or have read one of the Man Booker Prize shortlisted novels, please let me know in the comments, I’d be curious to hear what you thought of it!

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