Not Naipaul: Michael Ondaatje’s ‘The English Patient’ wins ‘best of 50’ Booker prize
Sri Lanka-born Canadian writer Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient has won the Golden Man Booker.Updated: Jul 10, 2018 08:47 IST
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, set in India among other locations, has been crowned the best work of fiction over the last five decades of the Man Booker Prize, prevailing over VS Naipaul’s In A Free State and three works.
The Golden Man Booker, the one-off award marking the Man Booker Prize’s 50th anniversary celebrations, was chosen by the public and revealed on Sunday.
Before the books faced a month-long public vote on the Man Booker website, all 51 previous winners were also considered by a panel of five judges, each of whom was asked to read the winning novels from one decade of the prize’s history.
The judges were Robert McCrum, who chose In A Free State by VS Naipaul for the 1970s, Lemn Sissay, who chose Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively for the 1980s, Kamila Shamsie, who chose The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje for the 1990s, Simon Mayo, who chose Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel for the noughties, and Hollie McNish, who chose Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders for the 2010s.
Shamsie said: "The English Patient is that rare novel which gets under your skin and insists you return to it time and again, always yielding a new surprise or delight. It moves seamlessly between the epic and the intimate – one moment you’re in looking at the vast sweep of the desert and the next moment watching a nurse place a piece of plum in a patient’s mouth.
“That movement is mirrored in the way your thoughts, while reading it, move between large themes – war, loyalty, love – to tiny shifts in the relationships between characters. It’s intricately (and rewardingly) structured, beautifully written, with great humanity written into every page.
“Ondaatje’s imagination acknowledges no borders as it moves between Cairo, Italy, India, England, Canada – and between deserts and villas and bomb craters. And through all this, he makes you fall in love with his characters, live their joys and their sorrows. Few novels really deserve the praise: transformative. This one does."
Helena Kennedy, chair of the Booker Prize Foundation, said: “The English Patient is a compelling work of fiction – both poetic and philosophical – and is a worthy winner of the Golden Man Booker.”