A S Byatt

A S Byatt on the Booker 1979 shortlist

How do the Booker judges choose the best book of the year from the sixty or seventy books they are sent? Their number has been increased from three to five, and literary academics have been less dominant on recent panels: the result of a larger committee should be, and I suspect is, that the winning book should be accessible to a large number of the intelligent public: Established literary landmarks: Murphy, Ulysses, At-Swim-Two Birds would, I think, have had trouble winning the Booker prize on their first appearance. The founders of the prize had the laudable intention of greatly increasing the sales and readership of the books they shortlisted. This year the judges – Asa Briggs, Paul Theroux, Michael Ratcliffe, Hilary Spurling and Benny Green – have chosen an honourable shortlist which on the whole deserves such increased publicity.

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