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Five books that never won the Booker (and shouldn’t have)

The Booker jury may find banality quite attractive, but not by such an incredibly post-modern tale as Superstar India,writes Mondy Thapar.

india Updated: Oct 15, 2008 20:56 IST
Hindustan Times

While the world starts looking at Aravind Adiga’s debut novel in a novel way after it’s won the Booker — in surprise or in happy confirmation — I figured that there are quite a few books that have managed to do what all books are supposed to do — sell — but haven’t, alas, won the Booker.

Considering that the award has been given to 41 authors over 39 years before this year (in 1974 Nadine Gordimer and Stanley Middleton and in 1992 Michael Ondaatje and Barry Unsworth shared the award), the number of non-Booker good-better-best-selling books is plenty. But here are the Top 5 of the list, books that could never have won the Booker and thankfully haven’t, despite the jury veering every year towards recognising ‘accessible’ writing.

One Night @ the Call Center: If critical acclaim could be measured by the number of copies sold and the way the general aadmi (aam admis don’t read), lapped it up, Chetan Bhagat’s first novel should have won the Booker, the Pulitzer and the Nobel. Thankfully, there are other rules beyond writing the way ‘people like us talk’.

Ignited Minds: Sure, it’s sold as non-fiction by an ex-President. But APJ Abdul Kalam’s ‘If-you-have-a-child-buy-it-for-him-or-her’ gyan about ‘unleashing the power within India’, is an unreadable book that is, in the term coined by Truman Capote, a work of ‘faction’. And in the words of Groucho Marx, from the moment I picked this book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend reading it.

Superstar India: Shobhaa De’s idea of an ironic take on the India Shining, Growing, Stretching, Grinning... the story is a fictional story of Shobhaa De, celebrity-intellectual (or is it intellectual celebrity?) taking on the role of Amartya Sen. The eponymous heroine sells banality in the form bitchiness. The Booker jury may find banality quite attractive, but not such an incredibly post-modern tale.

Unaccustomed Earth: The non-earth-shattering prose of Jhumpa ‘For Quiet Joy’ Lahiri’s collection of desis in Umrika is a classic case of dullery posed as finery. The Pulitzer guys may be ditzy about spotting this, but certainly not our Men Bookers.

Sea of Poppies: Amitav Ghosh’s latest had everything — the sales, the critical acclaim, the perfect book cover. The Booker eluded it for harbouring one cardinal sin in Booker aesthetics: it was a magnificently ambitious book. Ambition is for other things, sorry. Not the cool and funky accessible Booker.

First Published: Oct 15, 2008 20:52 IST