Barnes a unanimous choice for Booker

British novelist Julian Barnes finally won the literary prize that has eluded him on three previous occasions when he was presented with the Man Booker prize for his short novel, The Sense of an Ending, on Tuesday.

His victory came after one of the most bitter and vituperative run-ups to the prize in living memory — not among shortlisted writers but from dismayed and bemused ­commentators who accused the judges of putting populism above genuine quality.

But few of those critics could claim Barnes’s novel is not of the ­highest quality. The chair of this year’s judges, former United ­Kingdom security service chief Stella ­Rimington, said it had “the markings of a classic of English literature”.

“It is exquisitely written, subtly plotted and reveals new depths with each reading,” she said.
Much of the row over the shortlist has stemmed from Rimington’s prioritisation of readability, but she said quality had always been just as important.

“It is a very readable book, if I may use that word, but readable not only once, but twice and even three times. It is incredibly concentrated — crammed into this short space is a great deal of information which you don’t get out of a first read.”

Size doesn’t matter
The book, at 150 pages, is undoubtedly short but not the shortest to ever win. That record belongs to ­Penelope Fitzgerald’s Offshore, which won in 1979 and is a few ­hundred words shorter.

Barnes’s 11th novel, The Sense of an Ending explores memory, how fuzzy it can be and how we amend the past to suit our own wellbeing. It tells the story through the apparently insignificant life of arts administrator Tony Webster.

“One of the things that the book does is talk about humankind,” said Rimington. “None of us really knows who we are. We present ourselves in all sorts of ways, but maybe the ways we present ourselves are not how we really are.”

Rimington said the question of whether Barnes was overdue to win the £50?000 prize never figured in the debate. “We really were, and I know you find it very boring of me to say so, looking at the books that we had in front of us.”

It took judges 31 minutes to decide after what Rimington called “an interesting debate”. They had been divided 3-2 at the start but were all agreed by the end. “There was no blood on the carpet, nobody went off in a huff and we all ended up firm friends and happy with the result.”

Barnes had been nominated three times previously: for Flaubert’s ­Parrot in 1984 when he lost out to Anita Brookner, England, England in 1998 when he lost to Ian McEwan and Arthur & George in 2005 when he lost to John Banville.

What was particularly striking this year was that Barnes was the only seriously big hitter on the shortlist and the only one to have been shortlisted previously.

The novel becomes the eighth ­winner to be published by Jonathan Cape, a Random House imprint. —

Mark Brown
Professor of Political Economy at Brown University. Author of Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, & Great Transformations. Mark Brown has over 27644 followers on Twitter.

Study unpacks the ‘hidden racism’ at Stellenbosch

Students say they feel unseen and unheard at the university because of their skin colour

Workers’ R60m ‘lost’ in banks scam

An asset manager, VBS Mutual Bank and a Namibian bank have put the retirement funds of 26 000 municipal workers in South Africa at risk

‘Judge President Hlophe tried to influence allocation of judges to...

Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath accuses Hlophe of attempting to influence her to allocate the case to judges he perceived as ‘favourably disposed’ to former president Jacob Zuma

SAA grounds flights due to low demand

SAA is working to accommodate customers on its sister airlines after it cancelled flights due to low demand

Press Releases

MTN unveils TikTok bundles

Customised MTN TikTok data bundles are available to all prepaid customers on *136*2#.

Marketers need to reinvent themselves

Marketing is an exciting discipline, offering the perfect fit for individuals who are equally interested in business, human dynamics and strategic thinking. But the...

Upskill yourself to land your dream job in 2020

If you received admission to an IIE Higher Certificate qualification, once you have graduated, you can articulate to an IIE Diploma and then IIE Bachelor's degree at IIE Rosebank College.

South Africans unsure of what to expect in 2020

Almost half (49%) of South Africans, 15 years and older, agree or strongly agree that they view 2020 with optimism.

KZN teacher educators jet off to Columbia University

A group of academics were selected as participants of the programme focused on PhD completion, mobility, supervision capacity development and the generation of high-impact research.

New-style star accretion bursts dazzle astronomers

Associate Professor James O Chibueze and Dr SP van den Heever are part of an international team of astronomers studying the G358-MM1 high-mass protostar.

2020 risk outlook: Use GRC to build resilience

GRC activities can be used profitably to develop an integrated risk picture and response, says ContinuitySA.

MTN voted best mobile network

An independent report found MTN to be the best mobile network in SA in the fourth quarter of 2019.