Well this was a result I never expected! What a shock when chair of the judges Peter Florence announced there would be two winners of The Booker Prize this year because they are “two novels we cannot compromise on.” And it was a further surprise when those winners were announced to be “The Testaments” and “Girl, Woman, Other”. Maybe it’s the year of doubles with the recent Nobel Prize in Literature being awarded to both Olga Tokarczuk (for 2018) and Peter Handke (for 2019) – a decision which was controversial in a different way. Certainly there’s a strong love and respect that many readers have for Margaret Atwood, but it seems a curiously unnecessary thing for her to share the award with Bernadine Evaristo. Atwood herself said when receiving the prize “I kind of don’t need the attention.” Her stature and popularity will be little affected by this win, whereas it will be a huge boost to Evaristo who has produced several well-regarded novels but doesn’t have the same kind of national or international reputation. In the press conference after the award was announced Evaristo said “I’m not thinking about sharing it. I’m thinking about the fact that I’ve got here with it.”
I’m thrilled that “Girl, Woman, Other” has won the award since I loved this novel so much. Given the enormous anticipation for “The Testaments” I assume most people who were desperate to read it have now done so. Hopefully, those readers and readers who follow The Booker Prize winners to guide them in what to read next will now read “Girl, Woman, Other” as well. I’m eager to continue discussing it and plan to reread it at some point. I don’t think the prize being awarded to two authors detracts from the significant fact that Evaristo is the first black woman to win the Booker, but it would have been nice if she’d been able to stand in the spotlight on her own.
Personally I feel that if the award had to go to two novels I would much preferred to see it given to Lucy Ellmann and Bernadine Evaristo because I thought “Ducks, Newburyport” is a more accomplished novel than “The Testaments” and she’s an author whose reputation equally deserves to be enhanced. However, there is hope in the fact that “Ducks, Newburyport” is also shortlisted for The Goldsmiths Prize – an award that rewards fiction which breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form. While “The Testaments” is an engaging and moving read it certainly doesn’t do anything wildly inventive in its structure or style. Maybe recognition from The Goldsmiths Prize will highlight how “Ducks, Newburyport” is such an edgy and exciting novel while also being a deeply pleasurable read.
It was also thrilling to attend The Booker Prize ceremony for the first time this year and witness all the excitement in action. I had a wonderful time speaking with journalists, publishers and authors including Lucy Ellmann and Elif Shafak. It was a thrill to see such a grand event being held in the name of literature and regardless of the controversy I’m glad that the prize has sparked so much discussion and engagement with all the excellent novels listed this year. Whoever wins a book award doesn’t matter to me as a reader because what the prize has already done is encourage me to read both “Girl, Woman, Other” and “Ducks, Newburyport” – I’m not sure I’d have got around to reading either novel without the prize’s encouragement. And now I can continue encouraging other readers to pick up these great books as well. You can watch my video about attending the Booker Prize ceremony here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqNe4R4K7bg