At first I thought it was a joke. “Bob Dylan now favourite to take the Nobel prize for literature,” says a headline at The Guardian Book Blog.
It’s real. According to bookmaker Ladbrokes in England, 80% of bets over a period of 12 hours were for Dylan.
I love Dylan and saw him in concert. He gave it his all. We were there for hours.
But shouldn’t he be nominated for the Nobel Prize for music, if there is such a thing?
I love Dylan as much as the next person whose father played him incessantly during the car journeys of their youth, but in a field that also includes Amos Oz (25/1), Les Murray (16/1) and Thomas Pynchon (20/1) can he truly be considered, as Alfred Nobel specified when he endowed the prize, “the person who … produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”?
“In a word, no. But – inexplicably! – I’m not on the Nobel committee this year, so who I am to say? We’ll be blogging the announcement tomorrow – tune in to see whether or not I have to eat my words.”
FIVE WORDS from Frisbee, queen of the Prize winner readers: Philip Roth or Louise Erdrich.
Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child. I always get excited about the Booker Prize longlist.
This year I very much liked Sebastian Barry’s On Canaan’s Side, which didn’t make it to the shortlist.
The Stranger’s Child begins as an E.- M.-Forsterish novel, set in 1913, about a pre-war triangular relationship among Cecil Valance, a poet, George Sawle, his Cambridge friend, and Daphne Sawle, George’s sister. During a weekend visit to Two Acres, the Sawles’ home, George and Cecil find endless opportunities for gay sex. George’s sister, Daphne, an innocent fifteen-year-old who loves Tennyson, wants to tag along, and on a walk narrowly misses seeing the two making out. (They hastily dress and attempt to hide erections, etc.) Cecil, who seems to have no sincere feelings, later makes out with Daphne in what seems very close to a rape: no sexual intercourse, but the kisses are very uncomfortable and unpleasant.
He leaves a beautiful poem in Daphne’s autograph book, which changes everyone’s feelings about the weekend. George is jealous and believes it is for him, Daphne is surprised and tries to adjust her feelings, and Mrs. Sawle is charmed but later suspects he is a troublemaker.
As indeed he is.
Part II opens on another weekend after WWI. Cecil died in the war and is a much-revered Rupert Brooke figure, while George and Daphne’s older brother, Huey, died forgotten. Daphne was informally engaged to Cecil during the war, and ended up marrying his brother, Dudley. Over this weekend at the Valances’ family estate, a family friend, Sebby, is interviewing them for a memoir of Cecil. Daphne dislikes thinking about Cecil, but is disappointed when her interview is short. She has
a muddled feeling that Sebby had failed to press her too–but that was it, of course, she saw it now, and it was good not to have wasted time on it: he was going to say nothing in the memoir of his, Louisa [Cecil’s mother] was in effect his editor, and this weekend of ‘research,’ for all its sadness and piquancy and interesting embarrassments, was a mere charade.”
Because I just read Maugham’s Cakes and Ale, Sebby’s sanitized approach to biography very much reminds me of that of Maugham’s obsequious character Roy Kear. (My review of Cakes and Ale is here). Roy Kear’s head is “always up somebody’s ___,” as a crude friend put it, and Willie Ashendon, the narrator of Cakes and Ale, when asked to write a brief memoir of Victorian writer Edward Driffield over a weekend, realizes that Roy is writing a censored biography at the behest of his widow, who will control it. (Willie really lets it rip, as no one has done yet in The Stranger’s Child.)
Hollinghurst’s novel is rich in allusions to literature. The phrase “the stranger’s child” comes from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem In Memoriam A.H.H.: “And year by year the landscape grow / Familiar to the stranger’s child.” And of course this poem, one of Daphne’s favorites, is appropriate for Cecil.
Hollinghurst won the Booker Prize in 2004 For The Line of Beauty (a great novel). The Stranger’s Child (so far) has much in common with A. S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book (longlisted for the Booker a few years back) and David Lodge’s A Man of Parts (which I would have liked to see make the Booker list this year).
I’m so glad to find a couple of contemporary novels I really like. The Booker list this year has been disappointing–I have to admit our family already rejected two on the shortlist and one on the longlist (I wont bore you with which ones).
But now I’ve found two from the longlist I like: Barry and Hollinghurst.