By Adam Roberts | April 28, 2010
Very exciting. For the record, I predict a win for either Miéville or Jones, with Robinson running a good race and coming up on the right hand side. I haven't yet got around to reading Far North, so can't say whether it does or doesn't have a chance, or does or doesn't deserve the prize on merits. But I've read the other five, and that means I know that it's an unusually strong shortlist this year. Which is a little frustrating ... why do I have to get shortlisted alongside so many superb novels? Why can't the list be my book and five pisspoor, makeweight titles? Although, of course, not really: if I do not win tonight (and I don't expect to) then losing to a pisspoor rival would be much worse than losing to books of the brilliance of Miéville's or Jones's or Robinson's.
They're strange occasions, these awards. To slip into the third-person: one tries not to get too worked up about them, or to lose too much of one's cool; but inevitably things becomes increasingly exciting and jitter-provoking the closer to the actual announcement one gets. By the time you're at the fumbling-open-the-gold-envelope part, you're no longer thinking 'oo I hope I win!' You're thinking 'let's get this over with.' Those screenshots of the Oscars with five separate boxes and an anxious star in each? When the winner is announced, and the other four furiously applaud, they're not being disingenuous, you know. Perhaps they really are graceful losers, or perhaps they will, later, seethe with resentment; but in the moment they're experiencing a rush of pure relief that manifests as real happiness for the other actor.
On the upside, there have been some more reviews of all the shortlisted titles, some of them (the reviews I mean) very interesting. Niall Harrison, that tall man, links to some of these; and here's Dan Hartland's whole shortlist review at SH (and part II). He's not so keen on YBT, as it goes, though he says some interesting and perceptive things about the novel nonetheless. And I can't argue with his main point: he looks for an aesthetic unity in his fiction (he says he has 'a kink for it'); where I, although I acknowlege the tremendous gravitational appeal of that sort of unity, mistrust it, and consider it one of my jobs as a writer to go through the balanced, harmonious whole fucking it up in various, and I would hope creative, ways. That's a differend, right there.
One small niggle I have. Hartland:
There is also the Russian question. In a post on her own blog, the novelist Catherynne Valente charged Roberts with egregious cultural appropriation, marshalling several arguments in order to show that the novel's grasp on Russian and Soviet culture is tenuous and at times wholly wrong-headed. Some examples are less serious than others—that Skvorecky, when arrested by the KGB, angrily (but impotently) demands he has rights, is surely more forgivable than the suggestion that the genre and literary circles depicted in the novel might bear no relation to their counterparts in reality.
Nitpicking with statements like is really of no interest to anybody but a particular breed of pedantry-minded author (which is why I bury this at the bottom of a post few will read, rather than weighing in on Hartland's unpedantic, thoughtful piece); but this isn't right. What I mean is: I don't argue with Catherynne Valente's dislike of the novel; for maybe it is as shit as she says, and certainly her reaction is inalienably hers. And if I read her correctly, although that dislike does come in part from a sense that 'the novel's grasp on Russian and Soviet culture is tenuous and at times wholly wrong-headed', it really has more to do with a broader dislike of the book's tone and approach together with a diagnosis of deplorable fatphobia in my imagination. But I have to say: this particular bit isn't right. Though Valente and Hartland both say he does, Skvorecky, does not angrily (but impotently) demand his rights when arrested by the KGB. It's true that he does, after lengthy interrogation by several Militia (not KGB) officers, ask with what he has been charged; but that's not the same thing. Asking the police 'what are the charges?', even in a tyrannical state, isn't so unbelievable as demanding the KGB respect one's human rights, I think.No tags for this post.