Worldwide expansion for Man Booker Prize

What does the expansion of the eligibility of the Man Booker Prize to include the whole world mean for British authors?


In mid-September of this year, the decision was made for the Man Booker Prize to consider authors of English language novels from anywhere in the world for the award, as opposed to authors just in the Commonwealth, Ireland or Zimbabwe. For the first time in 44 years, the prize will be opened up to a whole host of international writers, which has been met, somewhat understandably, by mixed reactions.

The primary concern is that this widening of the net will, quite obviously, reduce the chances that British writers have of winning. This seems like a weak argument, however, as with a number of highly prestigious awards still existing that cater to only British writers, it’s not as if their chances of winning a literary prize are dramatically lessened.

What’s more, so many winners of the prize have not been British – take J. M. Coetzee, or Margaret Atwood, for example. Since the creation of the award in 1969, the authors from the entire Commonwealth have been eligible, meaning that British authors competing have always been met with a degree of competition from international authors. This expansion to the rest of the world is really nothing new.

Julian Barnes, winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize for his novel The Sense of an Ending, has stated his opposition to the decision, stating that he thinks that  “[literary] prizes thrive on having some restriction to them.” Yet we only have to consider the opinion of Ion Trewin, the Literary Director of the Booker Prize Foundation, who defines the criteria of the prize simply as “the best novel in the opinion of the judges”. It is clear that the novel’s country of origin is a superfluous detail; what remains to be the most important reason for winning the Man Booker Prize is purely the quality of the book in question.

Whether the timing of this announcement was deliberate or not, it has come at a good moment in the literary world. With the 2013 Man Booker Prize winner having just been decided, any attention the award has gained for its controversial choice to expand will soon be displaced by widespread interest in the recent winner: Eleanor Catton, with her novel The Luminaries.