Starting today, the biggest blockbusting novel for years – Book Prize! Book Prize tells of the powder keg created when four men and women are locked away to choose the novel of the year – and discover that the novels they have read do not contain half the passion that explodes among them. Here is the first dynamite instalment of Book Prize.
‘I liked Will Artley’s novel from Australia enormously,’ said Enid. ‘The feeling of space created by the outback, the almost universal suffering embodied in the crippled boomerang repairman, was so refreshing after the provincialism of most British novels.’
She hadn’t actually been able to finish Artley’s endless saga, but she wagered shrewdly that none of the others had either.
‘Rubbish,’ said Peter Abbey. ‘What on earth could be more provincial than the Australian desert? We in Britain always assume that anything set in our country is suburban and anything set in a country without street lighting is noble and universal. I shall use my vote to make sure that nothing from Australia wins.’
‘Hear, hear,’ said Murray, the literary whizz kid from Auckland.
‘Or New Zealand,’ said Peter.
‘Hear, hear,’ said Murray, who hated every writer in New Zealand except himself.
‘God, I could kill him,’ thought Enid, looking at Peter’s handsome features, swollen by years of having, well, just one more drink. Peter, the top literary agent in London, was temporarily without an Australian author to represent, which helped to explain his feelings.
Enid herself was a well thought of novelist, that is, one who was hardly thought of at all, either well or badly. She had once had a fleeting affair with Peter which ended abruptly at the Frankfurt Book Fair. It had also started at the Frankfurt Book Fair. It had been very fleeting.
‘Look, we haven’t even talked about the A N Wilson novel yet,’ said Sophie Trimbridge. ‘I must say, I rather liked it.’
‘Can’t give a prize to someone with initials,’ said Murray promptly. ‘Very old-fashioned, very confusing. For years I thought A S Byatt was a man.’
‘For years I thought A N Wilson was a man,’ said Peter, and they all laughed except Enid, who said: ‘But he is a man.’
‘It’s a joke, dear,’ said Peter, patting her on a hand which was promptly pulled away. Enid looked quickly over to Sophie Trimbridge for unspoken support but Sophie, as usual, was putting her hair in place. Sophie ran a highly regarded television books programme, which meant that it was well thought of but not actually regarded by anyone. To her surprise, Enid got a flashing smile of support, not from Sophie, but from the New Zealander, Murray. She smiled gratefully back. She rather liked the look of Murray who, though only the writer of one novel, was much sought after by the BBC, even if seldom found, as he was usually in the pub.
‘I think we have to be sensible about this,’ said Murray. ‘I think we have to vote for a readable novel, I think we have to vote for a writer who is already respected, and I think we have to vote for a woman, as men have won it for two years running.’
‘I think you’re talking like a pompous, self-elected chairman,’ said Peter. Murray got up. Enid thought for a moment he was going to hit Peter.
‘I think it’s time for a little drink,’ said Murray, ignoring Peter and passing through into the small inner room where the hospitality was kept. Enid went to stand by the window, staring out at the London rooftops. To her horror, she felt Peter come up behind her.
‘I often think of Frankfurt,’ said his voice in her ear. Enid, who also thought of Frankfurt but only with disgust, broke away and ran into the inner room to find some sanity. There, to her increasing horror, she saw Murray deep in an embrace with Sophie Trimbridge, their mouths joined as if both were playing each other like trumpets. They did not notice her. She returned to the main room. Peter grinned.
‘I’ve noticed you making eyes at the little Kiwi. Well, I’m afraid he fancies poor old Sophie, not you. You’ll have to make do with me.’
He advanced towards her. Instinctively she picked up the new Iris Murdoch and threw it at him. It was a surprisingly good shot, catching him on the temple and sending him sliding senseless to the floor.
Should she have thrown something lighter, like an Anita Brookner? Has she really killed a fellow judge? And if Peter recovers, will he get his evil way? Don’t miss the next exciting instalment of Book Prize!
The Independent 1989
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The Best By Miles