Philip Roth, titan of male Jewish-American postwar literature, has taken out the biennial Man Booker International Prize, announced yesterday at the Sydney Writers' Festival. The prize (previously covered here), valued at over $90,000, is given in recognition of a lifetime’s achievement to any writer in English or translated into English. Responding to the news, Roth described his win as a “great honour”.
The win was marred however by subsequent reports that one of the prize’s judges, Carmen Callil, resigned in protest at the decision. A publisher, writer, critic and founder of feminist publishing house Virago in 1973, Callil (a Melburnian by birth) commented, “he goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book. It’s as though he’s sitting on your face and you can’t breathe… I don’t rate him as a writer at all, I made it clear that I wouldn’t have put him on the long list, so I was amazed when he stayed there. He was the only one I didn’t admire - all the others were fine.”
The other nominees for the prize this year were Wang Anyi (China), Juan Goytisolo (Spain), James Kelman (UK), John le Carré (UK), Amin Maalouf (Lebanon), David Malouf (Australia), Dacia Maraini (Italy), Rohinton Mistry (India/Canada), Philip Pullman (UK), Marilynne Robinson (USA), Philip Roth (USA), Su Tong (China) and Anne Tyler (USA). John le Carré was also nominated and asked - unsuccessfully - for his nomination to be withdrawn.
Robert McCrum has written in Roth’s defense, calling him “a master of American prose, the author of some of the finest sentences and most subtle prose narratives in recent years.”
Some of those sentences include:
“The only obsession everyone wants: ‘love.’ People think that in falling in love they make themselves whole? The Platonic union of souls? I think otherwise. I think you’re whole before you begin. And the love fractures you. You’re whole, and then you’re cracked open.” - The Dying Animal
“Life is just a short period of time in which you are alive.” - American Pastoral
“As for himself, however hateful life was, it was hateful in a home and not in the gutter. Many Americans hated their homes. The number of homeless in America couldn’t touch the number of Americans who had homes and families and hated the whole thing.” - Sabbath’s Theater
“People are unjust to anger — it can be enlivening and a lot of fun.” - The Counterlife
“The legend engraved on the face of the Jewish nickel – on the body of every Jewish child! – not IN GOD WE TRUST, but SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE A PARENT AND YOU’LL KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE.” - Portnoy’s Complaint