Arts, Venue

Does choosing two winners defeat the object of a prize?

The Man Booker is a British literary prize which gives annual recognition to the best novel written in English every year. This year’s longlist was released in July, whittled down to a shortlist by September, and the winner was announced on October 14th. Or, should I say, winners.

From this year’s six book longlist, two authors were honoured with the title of Man Booker winner, something that has happened only twice before in the award’s 50-year history.

Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Testaments’, sequel to the iconic ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, and Bernardine Evaristo’s ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ tied for first place, sparking controversy among followers of the prize. The issue stems from the dual award.

For starters, does a prize decrease in value when it’s awarded to more than one person, especially when it’s supposed to indicate the best of the craft? Many have complained that the dual award is a cop-out. To me, it seems that the Man Booker judges wanted to recognise what Atwood’s newest novel represented. A feminist statement, and the mark of a lifetime of work. It’s difficult to decipher, as I haven’t read either novel, but I think the literary hype surrounding the release of ‘The Testaments’ probably worked in its favour. However, the desire to recognise this work seems in contrast with the usual goal of the Booker to mark quality over fame. One thing I wouldn’t dispute is that this achievement must be huge for the seasoned author. Being told you’re on par with Margaret Atwood must be pretty life-changing.

I look forward to hearing this year’s judges talk about this decision in later years. I find it difficult to believe that each panellist thought that the two novels were indistinguishable in quality, but the winner also has to be an agreed-upon decision. It’s certainly a dilemma, and I wouldn’t want to diminish the achievement of either woman, but think that the example made by the Man Booker this year makes for an interesting debate about arts prizes in general.


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Ellie Robson

May 2021
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