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Nobels and Bookers

As you may have noticed, Kazuo Ishiguro was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature last month. As you probably know, he wrote “Remains of the Day”, which won the Booker Prize in 1989. Back then it was called the Booker Prize, which is how I refer to it throughout this piece, although it’s known as the Man Booker Prize these days. This means that I have read at least one book by the latest Nobel Laureate. As noted in this piece from last year I have read every Booker Prize winner, or at least I had up to that point. The 2016 winner (Paul Beatty’s “The Sellout”) sits partly read on a shelf in the living room, and I haven’t even seen a copy of this year’s (“Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders).

My immediate thought on hearing about Ishiguro’s award was to wonder how many other Booker Prize winning authors had also won the Nobel. This sort of information is available in under a second with a web search but it’s also available somewhere in my brain, which is where I usually start looking for information. Do you want to try and exercise your own memory to see if you can think of any? If not you can run a quick search yourself, otherwise the list of authors who have won both awards is towards the end of this piece.

Last year’s Nobel Prize for Literature went to Bob Dylan, which prompted this piece from last October. I have been immersed in Dylan’s words and music for over 35 years and am unlikely to become equally familiar with the work of any other Nobel winner, past or future. I first looked at a list of the winners in the early 1980s, in a reference book in our local library, around the time I first checked out a list of Oscar winners (as detailed in this piece on my Projects menu). It was the first time I had come across names like Patrick White, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Czeslaw Milosz (and I’m delighted to find that I spelt that last name correctly without having to look it up, but double-checked on the web anyway). They were three of the winners between 1973 and 1980. Even now, 35 years later, those authors are still just names to me. I have never read a single page by any of them, or by Eugenio Montale (1975) Viceinte Alexaindre (1977) or Odysseus Elytis (1979), and nor do I possess any of their books.

In later years I would, at least, buy books by Nobel winners and there are volumes by Naguib Mahfouz (1988), Camilo Jose Cela (1989), Kenazburo Oe (1994) and Orhan Pamuk (2006) that lie unread on my bookshelves or in storage boxes. Some years ago a friend of my wife’s was discussing how much she enjoyed “that trilogy by an Egyptian author” and how easy it was to read them on the Kindle. She finished the first volume and enjoyed it so much that she downloaded the next one and started reading it immediately. It was so much easier now than it would have been 20 years ago, having to go to a bookshop, order it and wait for it to come in, or rely on your local library. “What was his name?” she asked, more to herself than to me. “Would that be Naguib Mahfouz?” I asked, “Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in the 1980s? Author of the Cairo Trilogy, including, ‘Palace Walk’ and ‘Sugar Street’?” “Yes, that’s him”, she said, “Have you read them?” “Nope, never even heard of him,” I replied, with the flippancy that some might find infuriating, but she responded favourably. Clearly I had heard of him, but she had read the books, and enjoyed them, so I can recommend them to you on her behalf.

It always pleases me when the Nobel goes to someone I have heard of, and even more so when I have read some of their work. That’s how it was for three successive years in the early 1980s: 1981 (Elias Cannetti, “Auto da fe”), 1982 (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, too many to list) and 1983 (William Golding, “Pincher Martin” and “Lord of the Flies”). Later, sometime in the 1990s, I would read Golding’s “Rites of Passage”, which won the Booker in 1980.

William Golding was the first author to win both awards, which brings me back to the subject of the second paragraph of this piece. In each case the authors who have won both the Booker Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature won them in that order (Booker, then Nobel). There are five in all, listed below in order of when they completed the double, in the following format:

Author Name (Booker Prize winner(s), year(s) / Year of Nobel Prize)

William Golding (“Rites of Passage”, 1980 / 1983),
Nadine Gordimer (“The Conservationist”, 1974 / 1991)
VS Naipaul (“In a Free State”, 1971 / 2001)
JM Coetzee (“Life & Times of Michael K” 1983 and “Disgrace”, 1999 / 2003)
Kazuo Ishiguro (“Remains of the Day”, 1989 / 2017)

For the record, JM Coetzee was the first author to win two Booker Prizes. Peter Carey and Hilary Mantel have also achieved this feat.

Finally, this piece from the Man Booker website also lists Alice Munro, winner of the Man Booker International Prize in 2009 and the Nobel in 2013, but she doesn’t make it into my list. The Man Booker International Prize was only awarded in that form in alternating years between 2005 and 2015, recognizing an author’s body of work. Since 2016 it has been awarded to a single work in its English translation. The Man Booker article is currently titled “The Nobel gets there, 18 years late” and begins: “Just as long as the Nobel Prize committee knows, the Man Booker spotted Kazuo Ishiguro first.  Many congratulations are due to the unassuming Ishiguro on winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, a mere 18 years after he won the then Booker Prize for The Remains of the Day.” I know it’s maths rather than literature, but 28 years (not 18) have elapsed since 1989. That’s 28 years in which I have continued to read nothing by Patrick White, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Czeslaw Milosz, Odysseus Elytis and dozens of other Nobel Laureates. Perhaps I should address that right now. Let’s see. Here’s a link to a Czeslaw Milosz poem that begins, “The history of my stupidity would fill many volumes.” That sounds right up my street.




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