Author Barnes backed for Booker amid literary spat

Mon Oct 17, 2011 10:40am EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - English author and four-time nominee Julian Barnes, who once dismissed the Man Booker Prize for fiction as "posh bingo," is favored to win it on Tuesday with his novel "The Sense of an Ending."

The annual award to a writer in English from the Commonwealth, Ireland or Zimbabwe is a major event in the publishing calendar, significantly boosting publicity and sales for shortlisted and winning works.

It is also an opportunity for Britain's "literati" to air their grievances about writers who have or have not been nominated and question the ability the judging panels to choose the right winner.

That criticism has been unusually loud this year, prompting chair of judges Stella Rimington to hit back at critics who have accused the award of populism and launched a rival award, The Literature Prize.

The board of the new prize, whose spokesman is literary agent Andrew Kidd, said in a statement that the Booker "now prioritizes a notion of 'readability' over artistic achievement."

Leo Robson, critic for the New Statesman magazine, recently wrote: "If things continue as they are, it isn't hard to imagine a time when the (Man Booker) prize will be seen as a way not of celebrating novels, just of selling them."

Rimington, a former British spy chief who turned to novel writing, put up a robust defense of this year's judges in a recent newspaper interview.

"As somebody interested in literary criticism, it's pathetic that so-called literary critics are abusing my judges and me," she told the Guardian newspaper.   Continued...