Reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, I have been ruminating on what makes a Man Booker Winner. This struck me because, much as I think that this novel is wonderful, I just can’t see it winning. It just seems so old-fashioned, so generous-spirited, so little England (in the good sense). It reminds me of my grandma, and the smell of baking scones and damp country lanes. It resonates with something deep within even my, not particularly English, soul. But I am just not sure it is winning material.
Now it is important to stress my thinking on this is as unscientific as it comes. I haven’t read all the winners, I don’t know the judges or their judging criteria, but still a few things hit me.
The Man Booker Prize is an international prize
This ‘internationality’ is something it stresses, as a differentiator with the ‘American’ prizes. This book is terribly, wonderfully English. I can’t imagine how international audiences will react to it.
It likes to be a little edgy
Not on the scale of the ‘no winner for you this year’ Pulitzer or anything, but still, I struggle to see this on a list with Rushdie’s works. It is quaint and endearing and a little retrograde. You could give it to your Grandma for Christmas.
The prize is a little too ‘literary’
The panel comprises an author, two publishers, a literary agent, a bookseller, a librarian, and a chairperson appointed by the Booker Prize Foundation. This novel is anything but literary in the snobby sense. It is accessible and friendly and kind to the reader.
As you may be able to tell, I have fallen a little in love with this novel (and I haven’t even finished it yet). If you are a Brit abroad in particular, you must read it for a little nostalgia (whilst quietly humming Jerusalem to yourself). I could provide an extensive list of all the things it brings to mind, from rich tea biscuits, to boisterous pub landlords, to boat shoes (something of a theme in this novel).
But at the same time, I understand why the judges are unlikely to prove me wrong – plucked heartstrings does not a winner make.