Wednesday
30
May
2012

Books: the Orange Prize and good, better, best


Spouse has accused me of being “demented” about the Orange prize. Couldn’t sleep after it was announced. Not because I didn’t like the book that won, The Song of Achilles by new, uber-talented author, 33 year-old Madeline Miller. No, I did like it. In fact I gave a glowing review of it in the Independent on Sunday which was quoted all over the post-prize coverage as proof of what a great book it is. But as much as I had enjoyed the book I had mixed feelings about it winning the prize.

The problem with this year’s Orange list is a problem any prize would envy: it was a very strong shortlist. Plus, two of the biggest contenders – the strongest contenders in my view – had previously won the Orange (Ann Patchett for Bel Canto) and the Booker (Anne Enright for The Gathering). Personally, I would have given the prize to Anne Enright for The Forgotten Waltz, pictured. (Spouse points out: “Yes, but no-one is asking you, are they?” Fair point.) This is a heart-stoppingly brilliant novel about fidelity, lust and self-delusion, a modern re-write of Madame Bovary for the tracker mortgage generation. It’s a book that rewrites the rules of fiction and reminds you how special reading is.

I can understand why the judges voted for The Song of Achilles. And in any case they made it known that the decision was not unanimous. Madeline Miller is a great writer and it’s a great book. There were other, more experienced writers on the list who have had their time in the sun. Why not reward a new talent? Which is great for Orange anyway, as prize committees like to look as if they’ve discovered a new voice.

But… But.. This is why I couldn’t sleep. It just wasn’t the best book on the list. And, worse, I don’t think it’s the best book Madeline Miller will write. Nor it is even her Bel Canto. Achilles is a miracle of a first novel, a stunningly original debut which is cleverly marketed towards people who know nothing about Greek mythology and think that by reading it they will feel much more clever. (And I know what I’m talking about because this is exactly how I felt when I read it.) But it’s not a Great Book. And Orange should only reward Great Books. Anne Enright’s The Forgotten Waltz is that book. I’ll shut up now because my husband has had enough.

 

Comments

Comments are closed.

Latest Tweet

Featured In

The Guardian The Times The Telegraph The Independent Red London Evening Standard BBC BBC Radio 4