Since 1969, the Booker Prize has been awarded to writers (from Ireland or the Commonwealth) for the best original full length novel written in English.   The long list of novels selected by the jury used to be my touchstone for “must-reads” in any particular year.  However, of late, I believe the judging panel has lost its way, and this year’s selection does nothing to change my mind.  Without necessarily wanting to pick on any one book (particularly one I haven’t read), Will Self’s “Umbrella” is a case-in-point.  Positively reviewed by some as a “…daring Joycean work of experimental fiction”, it was long-listed before it was even published.  As if that wasn’t a clear enough indication that the Booker books are no longer for the general public’s reading pleasure, “Umbrella” has been universally described as “…a novel about as far from ‘readability’ as you can imagine: 400 pages without paragraphs or breaks or chapter divisions, with wildly shifting points of view and time frames”.  Will Self has himself (ahem) commented that he “...doesn’t write for readers”.  No kidding. Anyway, if like me, you aren’t really that bothered who scoops the prize in two weeks time, but you’re looking for a good read from yesteryear, here are some of my favourite winners from the past decade or so.  I’ve also mentioned a few that I don’t remember so fondly, along with some I believe should have scooped the gong.  I assume that when my debut novel is published it will be added to the list of honourable winners, but until then: happy reading!

1. Julian Barnes – “The Sense Of An Ending” (2011) Last year’s winner – and very worthy it was too.  A real page-turner that keeps you guessing until the end, it is accessible, clever and relevant.  For maximum effect, you should really read it twice.

 2. DBC Pierre – “Vernon God Little” (2003)

The early noughties were my Golden Age for the Booker.  I met DBC (“Dirty But Clean” – what’s not to like?) at a book launch once and he seemed as anarchic as the protagonist in this book (he even wrote the name of his forthcoming, but top secret, book’s title on my copy of “Vernon God Little”, much to the chagrin of his publisher).  The Young Vic staged this in London last year, and it was equally brilliant.  Its after effects remain: for me, evidence of sheer brilliance.

 3. Yann Martel – “The Life Of Pi” (2002) Having been rejected by at least 5 London publishing houses, it just goes to show how important persistence is in the world of writing.  The plot: an Indian boy exploring issues of spirituality on a boat.  Oh, with a tiger aboard.  Fresh, readable and imaginative, the film version will be released next month, but I strongly recommend you have a read prior to heading to your local cinema.

 4. Peter Carey – “The True History Of The Kelly Gang” (2001) My “wildcard” selection!  This book relates the life of Ned Kelly as he adventures across Australia.  So far, so dull.  What makes the book so fascinating, though, is that it is written in a distinct vernacular style, with hardly any punctuation or grammar.  Initially off-putting, bear with it, and you soon realise that you have tuned into Ned’s secret language.  The book that JK Rowling would have liked to have written for grown-ups.

 5. JM Coetzee – “Disgrace” (1999)

My literary hero.  A double winner of the Booker, the man can do no wrong in my eyes (I even forgive him for dreaming up the “Elisabeth Costello” character).  This is a tough read - in the sense that it covers a hard subject - but oh so worth it.  “Youth”, “Summertime”, “The Life and Times of Michael K”: just read anything by Coetzee and be transformed into another world.  Salman Rushdie may have won “The Booker of Bookers”, but for me Coetzee will always be the real winner.    5 That Should Have… “Room” by Emma Donoghue; “The Secret Scripture” – Sebastian Barry; “On Chesil Beach” – Ian McEwan; “The Master” – Colin Tóibín; “Cloud Atlas” – David Mitchell.   …and 5 That Shouldn’t Have: “Wolf Hall” – Hilary Mantel; “The Sea” – John Banville; “The Finkler Question” – Howard Jacobson; “The Line of Beauty” – Alan Hollinghurst; “The God of Small Things” – Arundhati Roy.

About Ant0scar

Ant0scar first came to prominence as the inspiration behind Roland Mouret’s White Collection. Having subsequently turned his attention to writing, he has been twice nominated as best writer on Bohomoth and hopes to soon turn his love of short stories into a Day-Time Emmy Award, an Oscar and possibly a Grammy. When he’s not negotiating lower sauvignon blanc prices, Ant0scar enjoys socializing with Kate Moss, street-dancing and advanced dressage. He lives in exile with his husband on a barge with four imaginary Great Danes, a tarantula and a cardboard cut-out of Beyoncé. He must never be challenged...
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  1. Kate says:

    Loved Wolf Hall, and how did Midnight’s Children not get a guernsey?

  2. islander says:

    I just wanted to comment that we have similar choices of books. I loved cloud atlas!

  3. Shiny says:

    Those I’ve read, I’ve loved: ‘Pi’ ‘Amsterdam’ and ‘The Blind Assassin’. Been meaning to go after Barnes for a year now.

    Thanks Ant, for reminding me to read less Huffpo and more booo-ks.

  4. Mildred Fierce says:

    I’m frightened of Coetzee I don’t want to have bad dreams of mangy dogs eating garbage in Soweto so I avoid him dry your eyes JM. Off topic but. The mighty Eric Hobsbawn died yesterday. I saw him interviewed at the Hay festival by Christopher Hitchens; at Oxford Hobsbawn took his tutor to see Lenny Bruce. His tutor was E.M.Forster.

    • Ant0scar says:

      Wow! Lovesit! LitGoss gold…thanks Melle Fierce. x

      • Mildred Fierce says:

        can you dig it Ant? Bruce and Forster in the same room. Wierd. Yet true. Here’s another for ya. The woman who runs Pemberton’s the Hay onsite bookshop got chatting to me and I asked ”Who was the nastiest writer you’ve ever had in here?” and she said it was Clive James, his publisher had only sent one small box of books for the signing , (prudent / realistic) and he freaked and started shouting and throwing other authors books around like a maniac. Lol.

        • Ant0scar says:

          Lovesit more. But can’t find it within myself to hate on James: he introduced me to Margarita Pracatan. The rest is history…

  5. Mildred Fierce says:

    *Slaps own self* Hobsbawm

  6. twiggy twiggy says:

    THANK YOU for calling out The Line of Beauty. Worst tome to win Booker, IMO. If I wanted to hear about social ladder-climbing drug-addicted queens I’ll just plop myself in a coffee shop in the nearest gay village and watch them out-shriek each other about which Real Housewife / local celebrity wonder they saw the other day at Whole Foods buying organic bananas and bottled fizzy water. You know how some movies are “unwatchable”? Line of Beauty is unreadable. Full stop.

    For my own 5 best list I would add The Remains of the Day, The Blind Assassin – and yes – Midnight’s Children. On the latter, I’m uber-excited about the new film of it that’s opening very soon. Am busy practicing my Bridget Jones pronunciation of Rushdie’s name to get ready (“Sahhhlmaaaahhn, Saaaahhhhlmaaahhhhnnnn…”).

    Thanks for compiling this!

  7. Kristy says:

    Absolutely adored “The Life of Pi”, seriously amazing book. Tried desperately to get into “Wolf Hall”, which should be right up my street with the subject matter, but I just couldn’t crack it. Ended up leaving it in one of those hotel “leave one, take one” libraries in Thailand. Have recently thought that I should have another go at it and not give up so easily.

    A girlfriend gave me the new JK Rowling to read tonight and I’m looking forward to it – didn’t ever read the Harry Potters, so I’m coming in as a newbie to her writing.

    Have 28 books on my bedside table “must read” pile, and have tried to get into e-books, but it’s just “not the same” for me. I love the feel of the paper – I’m one of those people who wants to be accidentally locked into a huge bookstore overnight. Swoon!

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