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First among unequals

india Updated: Oct 15, 2008 20:34 IST

There was a time when critics moaned about how a brilliant debut novel was not given its due applause because the writer had no opus of works. Those days seem to be over. But do we detect a lurch towards the other extreme? Putting one’s egg in one book and not in the author’s oeuvre?

Aravind Adiga is the fourth winner of the Man Booker Prize to have won the award for his first encounter with the book-reading public. Arundhati Roy (the wait for whose second work-in-progress novel is already providing that extra magic to the yet-to-be-written book) had won the gong in 1987 for The God of Small Things. Unlike Ms Roy, however, Keri Hulme (who won the Booker in 1985 for The Bone People) and DBC Pierre (who won it for Vernon God Little in 2003) are debutante Booker winners who have gone on to write other works of fiction.

But to return to our First Book-Many Books dichotomy, prizes like the Nobel take into account a writer’s body of works. A back catalogue of his books and their quality mark the value of the author here. Special mention is made of certain books. For the Booker (or the Pulitzer), it’s one book that’s singled out — no matter if the writer ends up writing nothing or writing crap later. To put it in a music industry metaphor, the Booker celebrates a song; the Nobel an album. Depending on your reading time and tastes, you can choose your more valuable prize.