Well, perhaps “shocking” is a little too strong, but it’s more-than-a-little-eyebrow-raising that International Booker Judge and all around excellent translator and literary critic Tim Parks says of the International Booker’s 10-author longlist:
“Ten wonderful authors, nine of whom I didn’t know before I started reading for this prize. There were lots of surprises for all of us.”
Can this really be possible? This list includes Lydia Davis and Marilynne Robinson, both of whom I can’t imagine Parks has not read deeply. Not to mention, Peter Stamm, who, as a major German author, should be right in Parks’ geographical back yard.
All in all, I’ve read 7 of the 10 longlisters enough to have an opinion, and I don’t regard that as a particularly noteworthy thing. I would think that several insular Americans I can think of off the top of my head have read more extensively than I have from this list. Whatever you say about the Nobel, at least they tend to find people who are relatively neglected (not the only thing a prize should do, but when your prior four winners are Ismail Kadare, Chinua Achebe, Alice Munro, and Philip Roth, you might want to try extending your reach a bit).
I know that statements like Parks’ are supposed to be part of some kind of exercise in goodwill-generation and publicity-building, and I know that judging is about more than just the knowledge that you bring to the prize you’re judging, but if you make the judges sound as though they are not experts in the field they are supposedly judging, you begin to undermine the legitimacy of the prize they are conferring. (And, as previously noted, the International Booker is not exactly dripping with credibility at this point.) Thank god Parks has written such worthwhile commentary at the NYR Blog, and has a solid publication history, otherwise I’d be beginning to wonder about him.