The Lost Booker: a judge tells all
Forty years ago, 21 novels were missed for consideration for the Booker prize but justice is at last to be done. As a 'Lost Booker' judge Rachel Cooke has been immersed in, and often surprised by, the best literature of 1970
Rachel Cooke , The Observer, Sunday 28 March 2010
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.
I read these books in my capacity as a judge of the Lost Booker prize. To cut a long story short, in 1971, two years after its birth, it was decided that the Booker would no longer be awarded retrospectively; it would be, as now, a prize for the best novel in the year of publication. At the same time, the date on which the award was made was also switched from April to November. Most novels published in 1970, then, were never considered for the prize. They were "lost". Was this an injustice? Yes, thought Peter Straus, the Booker's unofficial archivist, who first stumbled on the omission. A completist to his very bone marrow, Straus suggested that the situation be remedied with a one-off prize. Any novel published in the UK in 1970 and still in print would be considered, and the judges for the contest would, like the books, all be 40 years old. They would draw up a shortlist of six, and the public would then vote for the winner.
Rachel Cooke's full piece at The Observer.
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