Cast your mind back a ways, if you will – no, further back… STOP! too far back – specifically to October of this year, and the announcement of the nominees for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize’s ‘best of the best’ award, a field drawn from previous winners of the prize in celebration of 250 years of the study of literature at the University of Edinburgh and automatically preferable to the similarly styled ‘best of the Booker’ by dint of its not even nominating Salman Rushdie, much less having him win twice. No, instead, the prize has gone to Angela Carter’s 1984 novel Nights at the Circus, and if 16 was your guess on how many comments it would take before a Guardian contrarian suggested Carter’s continued popularity was down to a combination of her early death and politically correct feminism in universities, well, bully for you.
Carter’s novel triumphed over The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene, The Mandelbaum Gate by Muriel Spark, A Disaffection by James Kelman, Crossing the River by Caryl Phillips and The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and, following its initial nomination by Edinburgh students, was chosen by a judging panel including Kirsty Wark and Alan Warner, author of Morvern Callar and current writer in residence of the university.
The Guardian quotes Laura Hassan, of Carter’s publishers Vintage, as saying: ‘Novel of the century? ‘Lor, love you sir!’ as Fevvers might say. We’re delighted to hear that the magnificent Angela Carter has been recognised by such a prestigious award. Long may Fevvermania continue’, all of which may lead one to wonder how you coin ‘Fevvermania’ before ‘Fevver fever’, but that’s really neither here nor there.
Churlish though it may be to deny an author as beloved as Carter her moment of triumph, it would nevertheless have been fascinating to see how James Kelman might have reacted to a second major award victory in the space of a week, following his Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year win for Mo Said She Was Quirky.
In his acceptance speech for that prize, Kelman, as is his wont, railed against the lack of value placed upon writers in contemporary Scottish culture in, as is also his wont, no uncertain terms. Upon being implored by an audience member to ‘moderate his language’, a source in attendance tells us Kelman predictably, but no less wonderfully for it, replied with a seven-lettered two-word imperative whose second word was ‘off’, and a suggestion that the heckler ‘moderate yourself’. Carter can have this one, but from now on, give this man all the prizes.