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Robin Robertson and the long fight

Robin Robertson and the long fight

Robin Robertson, one of the authors pipped to the Man Booker by Anna Burns, has just been awarded the £10,000 Goldsmiths-New Statesman Prize for innovative fiction for The Long Take. His book, a verse novel, was one of several experimental works on the MB longlist (Robertson's fellow Man Booker nominee Guy Gunaratne was also on the Goldsmiths list) and in an interview following his win Robertson, whose day job is in publishing, explained the need for writers to keep pushing at the edges of their form. “In my time in book publishing,” he said, “there has always been a conflict between the persistent drift, or drive, towards the popular, the commercial (which is often, also, the simplistic and the banal), and the need for work that feels original and artistically innovative (which often fails: financially, at least).” Hopefully, with the MB and Goldsmiths prize money and the attendant uplift in sales, The Long Take, already a critical success, will be acknowledged a financial one too.


What a good egg the 2000 Man Booker winner Margaret Atwood is. Her The Handmaid's Tale is now a school set text in various places and one student was set an essay question that stumped her: “Why did Margaret Atwood put the theme of power and control in the book?” The befuddled student didn't have a clue and so took to Twitter for assistance: “We do not have telepathy with @MargaretAtwood so I guess twitter is a close second. . . Helpppp!!!” Help duly arrived in the shape of Atwood herself: “Because it's in the world,” came the tweeted response. “(It's not just women who are controlled in the book. . . it's everyone except those at the top. Gilead is a theocratic totalitarianism, not simply a Men-have-power Women-do-not world. Lower status men are told when and who marry, eg.)” As another startled but seriously impressed Twitter user exclaimed: “Holy s#%^ Margaret Atwood just helped you with your homework.”


Louisa Joyner, an editor at Faber, has described what it was like reading the manuscript of Anna Burn's Milkman for the first time. It was, she says, “transformative”: “The writing stuns, the technicality of the work begins to show itself in moments of joy or, in some instances, in tiny flaws (I always read with a pencil) that simply serve to throw the overall quality into relief. With Milkman my scribbles were almost imperceptible – not least because I would mark a clause only to realise that it served some secret yet essential purpose in a moment I had yet to reach.” But that's not all; great books, says Joyner, are part of a conversation with other great books, so “As I began to talk about Milkman with colleagues at Faber & Faber, Marilynne Robinson joined us, as did Anne Enright; then for others it was Eimear McBride and Edna O’Brien, then Beckett and Faulkner. . .” That's quite a book group.


Tan Twan Eng's 2012 The Garden of Evening Mists may not have picked up the MB (Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies did) but it has enjoyed – and is still enjoying – a hugely successful afterlife. The novel, which tells the story of the Japanese occupation of Malaysia and is set over three time periods – the occupation, the early 1950s and the 1980s – won the Man Asian Literary Prize and the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction in 2013, and was one of the eight finalists of the 2014 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. It has also been made into a film which has now finished shooting and is set to be released next year. What's more the Asian production is going global with newly-signed rights aiming at the American market. Tan Twan Eng, the most delightful and modest man, must be wondering what on earth is going on.


No fewer than three Man Booker alumni have been shortlisted for this year's DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2018: Kamila Shamsie, Mohsin Hamid and Neel Mukherjee have all made the cut. The trio were among the six shortlisted novelists who stood out most clearly among the 88 entries. The winner of the $25,000 prize will be announced in January.