Congratulations to Anne Enright for surprising everyone by winning the Man Booker Prize for fiction last night with The Gathering. Like most people I haven't read this yet but I will rectify the omission forthwith. What struck me, however, were the terms in which this book was described. The chairman of the judges, the economist Sir Howard Davies, described it as "unflinching" and went on to admit it could seem a bit "depressing" and "a little bleak". We have been here before, on a shimmy down Feelgood Close, that little English cul-de-sac where everything must be cosy and comforting and even serious literature must conform to the happy norms of the feelgood culture. I am glad that Anne Enright has been robust in batting back this particular observation, cheerfully stating that of course her book is not comfort reading. If we banned from the bookshops any writing that failed to avoid confronting the harsher aspects of human existence what would we be left with? My message to Howard Davies: we are grown-ups, mate, and we don't need to be protected from the realities of life.
Much has also been made of the poor bookie odds for Enright and the fact that "only" 3000 copies have been sold so far (that will change this morning). Actually, for new British fiction that's not too bad, but what does it mean? Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach is said to have sold 100,000. Does that mean it is 33 times better than The Gathering? Er, no. It might actually be 100 times better. Or 700 times worse. These figures prove nothing. There is nothing wrong with large sales figures (to say so would be a kind of snobbery) and equally nothing wrong with small ones. The quality of the work of art is always the only thing that matters. Let's end with a great big steaming platitude: THE NUMBER OF COPIES SOLD OF A BOOK HAS NO RELATIONSHIP WHATSOVER WITH ITS INTRINSIC QUALITY.
Have a nice day!