If you’re the kind of person who regularly expresses exasperation that supermarkets are covered in Christmas decorations and it’s not even December yet, maybe stop reading here, as this week brings the first rumblings of activity regarding next October’s Man Booker Prize, a prize whose winner for this year was announced as Hilary Mantel little over a month ago.
The chair of the 2013 judging panel has been revealed as Robert Macfarlane, himself an author as well as Fellow in English Literature at Cambridge University and a returning judge, having previously sat on the 2004 panel that awarded the prize to Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty. ‘Conspicuously literary’ is how his appointment as chair of the Booker Prize judging panel has been described by The Guardian, apparently with a straight face, and presumably in advance of future posts describing how Oscar voters are ‘quite into films’ and the Mercury panel ‘like their music’.
Of course, what The Guardian really means by that is that Macfarlane seems to be another instance of the Booker trying to atone for the PR disaster of 2011, in which chair Stella Rimington’s professed desire to reward ‘readable books’ drew howls of derision from the literati of the sort that generally didn’t greet her morning briefings when she was head of MI5 (one assumes).
That year’s snubbing of the likes of the aforementioned Hollinghurst, Ali Smith, Edward St Aubyn, Philip Hensher and Graham Swift in favour of several little-known (and in some cases debuting) authors seems to have overshadowed the fact that Julian Barnes won anyway, and the Booker this year turned instead to Peter Stothard, editor of the Times Literary Supplement and so perceived as knowing what he’s talking about regarding these kinds of things, to chair the panel.
Macfarlane’s appointment means he can now get a start on the dozens of titles he and his cohorts will have to whittle down to a workable longlist by July of next year, with the new chair saying: ‘I feel very proud indeed to be chairing this prize, which has done so much to shape the modern literary landscape. I look forward greatly – with, it’s true, a dash of trepidation – to the 40,000 or so pages of reading that my fellow judges and I have ahead of us.’