The Booker Prize 2019 to Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo

This is what we calle want the butter and the money of the butter (we will leave the bottom of the creamer alone, thank you). Or, in this specific case, wanting to ensure commercial success AND literary credibility. Not that the two are necessarily incompatible, far from it. But it seems that the jurors of the Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious literary prizes awarded to English-language authors, find it difficult to believe that a single book can combine all the qualities at once.

Margaret Atwood, the scarlet novelist is back

Result, they crowned two writers each embodying one of these two poles: the star Margaret Atwood and the more confidential and sharp Bernardine Evaristo. The first, 79-year-old Canadian, is now an icon of Anglo-Saxon letters. Adapted in series, her dystopia “The Handmaid Scarlet” has established itself as the Bible of feminism and resistance to Trump. It is for the continuation of this novel, “the Testaments”, already in the best sales of books throughout the world, that Margaret Atwood is today awarded the Booker Prize.

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Half-rewarded, since she shares this prize with the Briton Bernardine Evaristo (will the two winners also have to share the 50,000 pounds, or around 57,200 euros with which the Booker is endowed?). She is distinguished for her eighth book “Girl, Woman, Other” (Penguin), twelve stories of black women in Britain. Stories composed in free verse, where Atwood’s style is characterized by its narrative efficiency, and a style that some consider nonexistent or even downright bad. Like the American critic of the Wall Street Journal Sam Sacks, who assassinates “the Wills”, “Silly and cartoonish novel”, from an inflammatory tweet:

Le Goncourt for Amélie Nothomb?

Born in 1959 to an English mother and a Nigerian father, Bernardine Evaristo is the first black woman to receive the Booker Prize. A prize like the Booker is an opportunity to promote a work still unknown to the general public. But isn’t that of Bernardine Evaristo likely to remain in the shadow of the giant Atwood? Wouldn’t she have benefited more from a spotlight on her and her alone?

This dub perfectly illustrates the dilemma faced by literary award jurors: should they favor the avant-garde, literature in its purest form, or favor books that promise to sell well, or even which are already bestsellers, in order to save a badly damaged sector?

Nobel Prize for Literature: the winners are … Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke

In France, the Goncourt, for example, seems to spare the goat and the cabbage by alternating from year to year “requirement” and “general public”. Thus the Goncourt prize awarded to Pierre Lemaître, in 2013 with his bookstore success “Au-revoir là-haut”, was followed by that awarded to Lydie Salvayre for the most intimate “Not to cry”. Ditto with the imposing and ambitious “Boussole” by Mathias Enard (2015) to which Leïla Slimani’s more accessible “Sweet Song” succeeded.

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If they wanted to follow the bizarre lead of their Booker Prize counterparts this year, they could crown, say, Santiago Amigorena and Amélie Nothomb.

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The Booker Prize 2019 to Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo

Hank Gilbert