Aware, of course, of the Booker Prize and also that I had, by chance, read a few of the winning books, I recently embarked on a personal project to read them all.
I was casting a critical eye over my bookshelves for a book that either I hadn’t read or one that I felt inspired to read. My eyes settled on “Midnight’s Children” by Salman Rushdie. This is a book that had previously defeated me a couple of times as I struggled to engage with it for one reason or another. So I determined that I would, this time, read it all the way through. Having done so, and then looking for my next read, I hit upon the idea that would ensure I would not have a tough decision on what to read next. I decided to read all the Booker Prize winning books starting from the first, “Something to Answer For” by P H Newby.
The Booker Prize is awarded to what is, in the opinion of the judges, the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK and Ireland” (from the Booker Prizes Website).
Judges are selected each year by an advisory panel and usually include critics, academics, authors and leading public figures. Past judges have included Malcolm Bradbury, Antonia Fraser, Edna O’Brien and Susan Hill, to name very few from an august list. You cannot help but respect and be impressed by the names but I have occasionally questioned their choices, which perhaps reflects on my own deficiencies rather than theirs.
There do not seem to be any specific criteria for the prize other than it being an outstanding piece of work. However, it is noticeable that prize-winners often deliver insights to other countries and/or cultures and can also deliver an interesting history lesson.
Of a Booker Prize-winner you would expect brilliant writing, wonderful use of language, inventive story-telling and rich characters. In almost all winners you get these but what often stands out is an unusual approach to the narrative and form. Bookers often challenge but almost always enrich your reading experience beyond what you might normally hope for in a “good read”.
Having now read more than a dozen of the winners I can truly say that with a couple of puzzling exceptions, they do represent the best of modern English Literature and I can highly recommend (most of) them.
In subsequent articles I review each prize-winning book, providing some advance intelligence on style, substance and readability. Merely personal opinion, of course, and I am hoping for comment and, perhaps, lively debate.
You can find all the Booker Prize winning books at Hive, who we recommend highly and from whom we receive a small commission from any sales when you use our link.