Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Reading Old Prize Winning Fiction: Barry Unsworth's Sacred Hunger

I am kind of interested in the idea of going over prize lists and checking out old prize-winning books. I got this idea by hearing a snippet of Neil Conan interviewing last year's winner of the National Book Award, Jaimy Gordon , who won for Lord of Misrule:

CONAN: Jaimy Gordon, we just have a few seconds left with you. But if you could tell us in what way do you think this changed your life.

GORDON:It changes in every way. I think that for an older writer and probably even among the writers who identified with my success because they are hoping so much to move out of obscurity themselves, only the older ones could have begun to worry, what's going to happen to my papers? What's going to happen to my letters? Will anybody be reading my books, will they'll totally disappear? I feel as though, at least that question is answered because I'll always be on that list for having won the National Book Award, and it's a very good list. (link)

This struck a chord with me, and made me want to go over the 'lists' again, and just pick a few books at random. Barry Unsworth's Sacred Hunger (winner of the 1992 Man Booker Prize) had jumped out at me as sort of interesting--I'm recently very interested in the historical intersection of trade and interior lives--and then, by happenstance, a copy was given to me. So I'm working on it now, and--somewhat inspired by Francine Prose's Reading Like A Writer--I've decided to make a very close reading, high-school style, complete with a bookmark for reading notes. Without any articulate reasoning, and only ever so slightly, I find myself just a bit uncomfortable diving into my first historical novel about slavery with the knowledge that the book is by a white British man who won a monied prize for it. It feels somewhat unfair to hold the race of the slave traders against the writer, but it also feels a bit unfair that he should profit from the trade (albeit exceedingly indirectly) in a field (celebrated literature) that is known for giving short shrift to the descendants of the slaves, when there are so few black novelists on the lists I am perusing. It's a pretty weak line of argument, I know, and I'd be interested in knowing if anyone wants to make a stronger case in either direction.

1 comment:

  1. Good to see you writing a blog, I did write one, very much in fits and starts, ... mostly about my travels and photography. But the travels here are not nearly so much fun as in India, and photography has taken a back seat these days.

    Will look up the books (at least reviews ... hehehe) you mention above. Recent reads are just what I found online (from a not so legal ebook forum), and there are two in tandem - How I Killed Pluto (Mike Brown) and Empire - What ruling the World did to the British (Jeremy Paxman) ... both interesting but non fiction reads. Let me see how I like them at the end.

    Also read a fictional account of an autistic teen - recommended by my sister - The curious case of the dog in the night time (Mark Haddon) ... very interesting and eye-opening read.