The Dumbness of Book Prizes

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Are book awards worth anything anymore? With the number of awards flooding the market and the tag ‘award-winning book’ beginning to lose its shine, someone was bound to complain sooner or later. And last week, writers Martin Amis and Lionel Shriver did just that. The latter had won the Orange Prize in 2005 for her eighth novel, We Need To Talk About Kevin. This year, the book that was rejected by 30 publishers before becoming a bestseller was voted by the public as their favourite Waterstones/Orange ‘winner of winners’ in the last 15 years. Shriver, however, complained to The Independent about the ‘dumbness’ of multiple awards. “The more prizes you give the more meaningless they become,” she said. 

Amis too, speaking at the Hay Festival in Wales, was unsparing in his attack. The writer, who bagged the Somerset Maugham Award for his first novel, The Rachel Papers, in 1974, but in the last decade has received critical reviews and no prizes for his books, spoke of “the great fashion in the last century… of the unenjoyable novel”. Taking digs at the works of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, he said, “And these are the novels which win prizes, because the committee thinks, ‘Well it’s not at all enjoyable, and it isn’t funny, therefore it must be very serious.’”