The year that never was… those authors who were published in 1970 were never given the chance to be included in the Booker Prize. This quirk in the prize’s history apparently happened because, having originally been awarded to a book published the previous year, in 1971 the rules changed and only books published in the current year were eligible. This automatically excluded those published in 1970.
Why the “powers that be” waited 40 years to right this wrong is a mystery – especially, since all but two of the shortlisted authors – Nina Bawden and Shirley Hazzard – are now sadly beyond all earthly prizes.
Better late than never, maybe. Anyway, we all now get the chance to vote for the Booker that never was by visiting this website. Make sure you vote by 23 April.
All does really mean all … A dropdown box invites you to state your location: Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, Central America, North America, South America.
The original long list of 21 was announced in February:
o Brian Aldiss, The Hand Reared Boy
o Paul Bailey, Trespasses
o H.E.Bates, A Little Of What You Fancy
o Nina Bawden, The Birds On The Trees
o Melvyn Bragg, A Place In England
o Christy Brown, Down All The Days
o Len Deighton, Bomber
o J.G.Farrell, Troubles
o Elaine Feinstein, The Circle
o Shirley Hazzard, The Bay Of Noon
o Reginald Hill, A Clubbable Woman
o Susan Hill, I’m The King Of The Castle
o Francis King, A Domestic Animal
o David Lodge, Out Of The Shelter
o Iris Murdoch, A Fairly Honourable Defeat
o Shiva Naipaul, Fireflies
o Patrick O’Brian, Master and Commander
o Mary Renault, Fire From Heaven
o Ruth Rendell, A Guilty Thing Surprised
o Muriel Spark, The Driver’s Seat
o Patrick White, The Vivisector
Today these were whittled down to a shortlist of six chosen by a panel of three judges aged 40 or thereabouts: journalist and critic, Rachel Cooke, ITN newsreader, Katie Derham and poet and novelist, Tobias Hill.
The full shortlist is:
The Birds on the Trees by Nina Bawden: The story of writer Maggie and journalist Charlie whose “middle-class security” is “shattered” by the expulsion from school of their eldest son.
Incidentally, Nina Bawden, who is a well-known children’s writer and author of Carrie’s War, was quoted by The Times as saying: “It’s astonishing actually, because I thought I knew all my books backwards but I couldn’t remember what this one was about.” Well, I have plenty of sympathy – 40 years is a long time to wait.
Troubles by J G Farrell: An army major hides himself away in the “dim and shabby splendour” of a hotel in Ireland in 1919, unaware that “the struggle for independence is about to explode with brutal force”.
The Bay of Noon by Shirley Hazzard: The “lonely and rootless” main character Jenny makes new friends in war-torn Naples, “gradually revealing to her the changing face of love”.
Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault: The story of the “resolute, fearless” young Alexander the Great during “the years that shaped him”.
The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark: Office worker Lise “leaves everything behind her, transforms herself into a laughing, garishly-dressed temptress and flies abroad on the holiday of a lifetime”.
The Vivisector by Patrick White: Painter Hurtle Duffield dissects the weaknesses of “the men and women who court him during his long life” with “cruel precision”. Only the “egocentric adolescent he sees as his spiritual child elicits from him a deeper, more treacherous emotion”.
Thanks to the Goodread website, I also had a quick glance at other (less elevated) favourites published in 1970 – my first year in secondary school. The first title that jumped out at me was a tiny book that became a big hit at the time: Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. Then several books I certainly remember being around the house: Mary’s Stewart’s The Crystal Cave, Dick Francis’ Rat Race, Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander, and lastly the enchanting (I’ve since re-read it) 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff.
1970 was also the year The Female Eunuch was published – and no, I didn’t read that until at least six years later, at university.
I’m going to try and find some of the shortlist to read before 18 April and then cast my vote (I wish voting in the General Election could be this easy) – but I might also be tempted to go back to some old friends too.