Well, yesterday we announced our Shadow International Booker Prize winner, and we were keen to see just what the official judges would choose from their final six (we already knew it wouldn’t be the same as ours given they’d foolishly dropped that book for the shortlist stage…). I must admit that it was with a mixture of anticipation and dread that I went online this morning, hoping less that the judges had chosen the right book than that they simply hadn’t chosen the wrong one (more on that later…). In any case, the decision has been made, bringing the annual IBP season to a close, and it’s time to see just what that decision was. Without further ado…
THE WINNER OF THE 2021 INTERNATIONAL BOOKER PRIZE IS:
David Diop’s At Night All Blood Is Black
(translated by Anna Moschovakis, published by Pushkin Press)
Congratulations! While this wasn’t my pick, it was certainly a book I enjoyed, and it’s one I suspect many readers will appreciate, too 🙂
My second feeling on seeing the news was one of mild surprise as I didn’t really expect Diop’s novel of an African soldier on the battlefields of World War One to be challenging for the prize, despite its shortlisting. However, my third emotion was more positive, recognising the success of the book in its content and writing and acknowledging that even if it wasn’t really the best book in the field, at the very least it was a novel that could proudly represent the many books brought into English and published last year, a worthy flagbearer for the world of fiction in translation.
My first feeling, you might ask? I’m not going to lie. The very first thing I thought when I saw the name of the winner was “Thank God they didn’t choose The War of the Poor“. It’s a sad state of affairs when your initial reaction is such a negative one, but that’s on the judges, not me – they’re the ones that shortlisted it. If you read my review, you’ll see that I didn’t even find it that terrible (although many readers did), but the reality is that it was an underwhelming, slight work and totally unworthy of being longlisted, let alone shortlisted. It’s becoming a (disturbing) trend for weak books to make the shortlist, and the fear of being sold a lemon as the winner really overshadows what should be a day of celebration.
Of course, if we look at the longlist as a whole this year, I’d have to say that underwhelming could be the word for 2021. The judges certainly decided to make their mark on the prize, putting their own spin on what qualifies as fiction, which led to a longlist conspicuous for its lack of respect for what most readers would expect to find in a work of fiction. Perhaps the most damning indictment of the books chosen this year is that a couple of the favourites (In Memory of Memory and When We Cease to Understand the World) were probably close to taking out the prize in spite of its being hard to discern much fictional about them at all. Perhaps next year we could try a little harder to stick to the spirit of the prize, no?
All in all, 2021 would have been a very disappointing year if it were merely about the books and waiting for the pronouncements of the judges. Luckily, though, as I discussed yesterday, there was also the small matter of the Shadow Panel, with our discussions and meetings, and the more informal online chats with other readers. Thanks to everyone who has engaged with me and my grumpy views over the past few months, and I’ll attempt to leave you on a positive note:
Things can only get better 🙂