I am not surprised Salman Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence has failed to get past the long list to the short list for the 2008 Man Booker Prize even though bookmaker Ladbrokes installed it as the 4-1 favourite. As I wrote in an earlier post, the West might find the story too exotic. Midnight's Children, the 1981 Booker winner which went on to the Booker of Bookers award this year, was exotic, but it was also a political allegory published at the right time, four years after the lifting of the state of emergency in India, which made it highly topical and relevant. And, of course, it's a classic.
The Enchantress of Florence is highly relevant, too, if one looks under the surface. It deals with magic, the power of words, and social engineering — for what is the central character, who calls himself Mogor dell'Amore, but a piece of social engineering who has crafted a new persona for himself? Reading the book, I was reminded of Barack Obama who is as charismatic, confident and articulate and who has also been able to forge a persona of his own through his autobiographies.
But The Enchantress of Florence also has the fairytale quality of Haroun and the Sea of Stories, a children's classic, and that's not usually found in Booker winners.
As an Indian, I am rooting for Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies, which has been shortlisted for the Booker.The winner of the 50,000-pound prize will be announced on October 14.
Between ploughing through The Enchantress of Florence, I managed to turn the first few pages of Sea of Poppies and it looks promising, especially since the blurb says Ghosh plans to turn it into a trilogy. I loved Paul Scott's Raj Quartet and another Indian epic would be just great. I enjoyed Ghosh's recent novels, The Glass Palace and The Hungry Tide.
Also shortlisted is the Indian Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger, which I am yet to see. The Indian website Rediff has an interview with the first-time novelist and the youngest writer on the shortlist. Adiga, 34, who lives in Mumbai and read English literature at Columbia and Oxford, talks about his experiences while working as a journalist for Time magazine in India from 2003 to 2005. He says:
The first thing that came to mind that I had forgotten was the servant-master relationship, the class system in India. Especially in north India, even today, a middle-class person is well off and can have three, four servants, a driver, a gardener, someone to take care of the children.
The other thing that struck me is the disparity in income. The rich are so rich. The Indian economy is booming but the money was not really getting down to the poor and the difference in the world between the rich and the poor was phenomenal.
And this led to the question why there was so little crime in India compared to that in New York, South Africa and Latin America, where poverty is the leading cause of crime. In India, even if there is a phenomenal disparity in wealth there is very little crime due to poverty. The novel began as a kind of an experiment.
Here's another interview with him published on the Man Booker site. He still writes for Time. This piece published in August was on inflation in India.
The Man Booker Prize 2008 shortlisted novels are:
- Aravind Adiga: The White Tiger (Atlantic)
- Sebastian Barry: The Secret Scripture(Faber and Faber)
- Amitav Ghosh: Sea of Poppies (John Murray)
- Linda Grant: The Clothes on Their Backs (Virago)
- Philip Hensher: The Northern Clemency (Fourth Estate)
- Steve Toltz: A Fraction of the Whole (Hamish Hamilton)
Toltz, an Australian, is also a first-time novelist like Adiga. Hensher was a Booker judge in 2001 and longlisted for the prize in 2002 and writes a column for the Independent. Barry is Irish. Grant, like Hensher, is English.
The judging panel this year is chaired by former Tory minister Michael Portillo, Granta editor Alex Clark, novelist Louise Doughty, bookseller James Henage and broadcaster Hardeep Singh Kohli.Portillo said, "Salman Rushdie's was not one of the top six books for us. We didn't have a huge debate about it," reports the Guardian.
Louise Doughty, on the judges' blog, writes about the short list:
There was a large amount of consensus – I don't think it's giving too
much away to say that five out of our six-strong list hopped onto it
with relative ease. Assigning the final place on the list was a
trickier business. There were four strong contenders for that last
slot, each of them greatly beloved by their defenders.
Along with The Enchantress of Florence, also dropped from the short list were:
- Girl in a Blue Dress, by Gaynor Arnold (Tindal Street Press)
- From A to X, by John Berger (Verso)
- The Lost Dog, by Michelle de Kretser (Chatto & Windus
- A Case of Exploding Mangoes, by Mohammed Hanif (Jonathan Cape)
- Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill (Fourth Estate)
- Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith (Simon & Schuster)