And the Booker Prize, formerly known as Man Booker, goes this year to the one and only – oops. The Prize has two winners this year. Although I anxiously wait for the annual announcement, when this year’s diluted prize was announced a week ago, I was disappointed – not in the authors who won or the books selected – but in the judges.
The Prize this year was awarded to two authors for books about women: Margaret Atwood for her much anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments, and Bernardine Evaristo for Girl, Woman, Other.
Erica Wagner, author, literary critic and most importantly a recent former judge for the Booker Prize, noted the rules clearly state “the prize may not be divided or withheld,” and must be given to a single author. The judges for this year’s prize said “we cannot abide by these rules.” Wagner decided this year’s judges’ decision to blatantly disregard these rules fits well with the current state of affairs. Politicians on both sides of the pond have refused to follow Supreme Court and Constitutional rules – so far without consequence.
Although the Booker Prize is for one book, some reviewers supposed Atwood was really receiving well deserved credit for her body of work. Her first book, The Edible Woman, was published in 1970, and I first connected to her with Blind Assassin in 2000 when she won the Booker Prize, and then backtracked to read her famous Handmaid’s Tale, first published in 1985. Atwood has also written short stories, children’s books, and several nonfiction books; Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, in 2008 may be the best known. Now in her early 70s, she maintains a lively presence in social media while she continues to write books. She recently said that a person of her age “can afford to be undignified… and to stretch the boundaries.”
Evaristo, 60, the first Black woman to win the Booker, has her own body of work across poetry, short fiction, drama, essays, literary criticism, and projects for stage and radio but she was a new author for me. Reviewer Claire Alifree calls her book “a polyphonic sequence of largely unpunctuated, interconnected stories about 12 black women… but despite the lack of conventional punctuation Girl, Woman, Other makes for fast, easy reading.”
I have not read either book yet, but this year’s thirteen Booker Dozen longlist included My Sister, the Serial Killer – a title I could not resist. This short book was available in my library, and I did read it.
Here is the Prize summary of both winners. Could you have decided on one?