A judge for the Lost Booker that’s been making headlines, despite its dearth of Margaret Laurence, writes about the process of judging 40-year-old books. Can’t be that hard, can it? I’m almost 40 and I feel like I’m being judged all the time! Thank you! Thank you! You’ve been great. Give yourselves a big round of applause and remember to tip your waitress!
I love Ian McEwan but his memory sometimes plays tricks on him. In a recent interview, the writer talked about his early work, setting his books in the context of what everyone else was doing. The novels of the late 1960s and early 1970s were, he said, polite, and a little dull. Hmm. I am not at all sure he is right about this. As it happens, I have just read 21 novels, all of which were published in 1970, and while a few could be described as polite, none was actively dull. Two – Bomber by Len Deighton and I’m the King of the Castle by Susan Hill – were so exciting, I read them at one sitting, and one – The Hand-Reared Boy by Brian Aldiss – so filthy, I read it with the door of my office closed, as if afraid of being caught. You want camp and agonised? Try A Domestic Animal by Francis King. Feminist and experimental? The Circle by Elaine Feinstein. Muscular and sweeping? The Vivisector by Patrick White. I could go on and on like this. I even liked – or at least it had its moments – Melvyn Bragg’s sentimental tale of working-class life, A Place in England (”Ee, there’s dignity in work, lad!”). Only one book left me completely cold, and that was A Little of What You Fancy by HE Bates. I’ve never been keen on the bucolic Ma and Pop Larkin, and their continually rising sap.