Wednesday, 17 October 2012

So Hilary Mantel

has just won the Man Booker Prize for the second time - this time for "Bring Up the Bodies".  No doubt she deserves it and winning twice is a remarkable achievement but I do not envy her. Anything she produces from now on is going to be scrutinised to the nth degree. It is the sort of reputation that puts an enormous burden on the writer.
I also feel a little guilty. I could not read "Wolf Hall". I tried but I could not finish it. I barely started it. The writing was not for me.
I have a problem with some - perhaps many -  "prizewinning" books. I try to read them because I think I should at least know about them. Casting my eye down the list of Man Booker winners I realise that I have glanced at most of them. I have not read all of them.  I am unlikely to do so.
The same is true of other adult "literary" prizes. I often glance at them but I do not read them through to the end. I have said elsewhere in this blog that I cannot read Patrick White. I have been told I should. He is Australian. He won the Nobel Prize. How dare I not read him? Easily. His writing bores me. I know. It is shocking.
My father has looked at many prizewinners too. "Self-indulgent, navel gazing nonsense" he said of the work of one "highly regarded" Australian writer. It was an honest reaction from a man with a degree in English literature. The writing was not for him.
We will get half a dozen or more copies of "Bring Up the Bodies" on the shelves of the local library. They will be borrowed but, with rare exceptions, they will not be read to the end. The same was true of Wolf Hall. "I didn't finish it" and "I couldn't get into it" were common reactions even while a few people were saying, "I loved it. I didn't want it to end!"
It is more likely that people will read JK Rowling. The waiting list to read the latest Peter James - two copies - apparently extends to well over one hundred - and people will read it. "Don't tell me what happens!" I heard someone say. If Elizabeth George produced another Lynley novel or Ian Rankin another Rebus novel then there would be a queue the same length as there is for Peter James.
Then there are the prizes for "children's literature" like the Carnegie Medal. I can run my eye down those lists and say, "Yes, I have read - and even enjoyed - most of them." There will be a few I have not read - but not many. There are a few I have not enjoyed - but not many. Some of course I have enjoyed more than others.
I read a good many books intended for children. My father has too. He still says a good book for a child is a book which is good for anyone. They are not the only books we read of course but we can still enjoy them.
I wonder what changes for me between writing intended for children and writing intended for adults? Is it that I have never grown up as a reader? Does it mean I will never really be able to write well for children?
It bothers me. Should I make another attempt to read Wolf Hall and the other winners on the Booker list?
One of the problems is that there is just such a lot I want to read. Sigh!


Old Kitty said...

I have to admit to have truly struggled with Wolf Hall to the bitter bitter end. Oh lordy, it was such a chore! It wasn't a pleasure to read! LOL! I appreciate the depth of it all and now that her other book has won maybe the fault is mine but I didn't enjoy the experience and it didn't make me rush out to buy Bringing up the Bodies!

I find the older I get the more pleasure I take out re-visiting books I enjoyed as a child.

Take care

Donna Hosie said...

I loved Wolf Hall and am reading her latest now.

Big fan!

It's all subjective.

the fly in the web said...

I liked her early abroad...but the historical turgid compared with the realities of life at the time.

We tried ordering all the Booker finalists over the last ten years...nearly all were us.

catdownunder said...

You're right Donna - it's all subjective! Owner of the bookshop was not enthusiastic about it - and her daughter did not like it at all. There was a rep from a publishing company in when I was there this morning and she admitted, "I haven't read it. I am not sure I want to."
Old Kitty you are more persistent than I am! I'm with Fly in the Web - the prose was, for me, turgid!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Your instincts are right about children's fiction. They are the last bastion of story over "beautiful writing". Not that they aren't beautifully written, but in the end, a child or teen wants a story with characters they can care about and identify with, not something of which they can say,"Hey, I loved the wording!" I get excited about new children's and YA novels in a way I will never be over adult books. So read your children's books, write them and be happy.

JO said...

Each to their own - think how tedious bookshelves would look if we all liked the same thing!

jeanfromcornwall said...

I have tried a Hilary Mantel. I couldn't get on. This weekend I took a Philip Pullman off my daughter's bookshelf and found later that I had read it in one gulp. He is a master storyteller.
That is what we want if we are being intellectually honest - "Please tell me a story"

Christine said...

Literary prizes are not awarded for their potential sales merit and long may that be. Perhaps literary books are a bit like Modern Art... they may take a bit of detective work. There's Art and there's Decoration... one is easier to understand than the other.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes Cat keep on reading and writing for children please! It is where they start - no Booker prize comes without children's writing and reading preceding it. Ros

catdownunder said...

I have no intentions of stopping Sue! There is some wonderful writing for children coming out!
Jo, yes! (I suspect you have very diverse interests after your travels.)
I think you are right too Jean - we want a story!
Christine you are probably right about that but the writing still has to be "accessible" when the detective work is done.

Miriam said...

It is because you read books for children that you write so well in that genre.

I haven't tried to read many prizewinning books. I assume such books aren't intended for ordinary people like me.

Christine said...

The detective work is part of the journey. It's what makes us grow, as readers and writers. No gain without pain.

Kate said...

I haven't read Wolf Hall but I read Bring up the Bodies and loved it. For a sequel it worked really well as a stand alone but Wolf Hall is definately going onto the To-be-read pile.

I thought it was a superb book. Writing from Thomas Cormwell's POV was a bold move - the man being something of a monster by all accounts - and yet the character totally drew me in. Testimony to the skill of the author. And even though I knew what was going to happen to Anne Boleyn in the end I couldn't help hoping.

A wonderful rich book and a strong recommend from me!