Submitted by The Booker Prizes on Fri, 2018-06-08 16:58
The death at 102 of Mary Wilson, Baroness Wilson of Rievaulx and wife of the former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson, marks the severing of a link to a different age of politics. What was often forgotten about her though is that she was a distinguished poet in her own right and a great friend of John Betjeman. It was said that a magazine once offered her £33 to publish some of her verses but she was advised by a civil servant that receiving the money could be seen as trading on her position as the PM's wife, and so turned the offer down. Mary Wilson was also a judge of the 1976 Booker Prize (as it was then called) when she and her fellow judges, Walter Allen and Francis King, chose David Storey's Saville as their winner from a shortlist that included such distinguished names as André Brink, William Trevor and Brian Moore. Her husband Harold, having just resigned as PM after his second stint in No 10, came to the award dinner but only arrived in time for pudding since he had been delayed by attending a boxing match. What Mary never vouchsafed was whether she later boxed her husband's ears for his lack of support.
Congratulations to Kamila Shamsie, Man Booker shortlisted last year and one of our Golden Man Booker judges, who has just won the £30,000 Women's Prize for Fiction for Home Fire, a reworking of Sophocles' Antigone. The novel features three orphaned siblings, one of whom joins Isis, and also the Muslim son of a British Home Secretary. Since Home Fire was written long before the real-life elevation of Sajid Javid to the plum cabinet role, Shamsie also deserves an award for prescience.
Elizabeth Strout's 2016 Man Booker longlisted My Name is Lucy Barton has made a triumphant stage debut at the bridge theatre in London. The play, in which Lucy Barton comes to terms with her life and confronts her past following an operation, stars Laura Linney in the title role. As Michael Billington wrote in The Guardian, “Novels, depending on the stream of time, rarely make good plays. Elizabeth Strout’s first-person narrative. . . however, breaks the rules and fits perfectly on the stage. That’s partly because of the quality of the writing and partly because of a beautifully nuanced solo performance by Laura Linney.”
Billington's aphorism about the unsuitability of staging novels is also being tested by Virginie Despentes, one of this year's Man Booker International shortlistees with Vernon Subutex 1 (a television adaptation, with the French movie star Romain Duris, is scheduled to start filming this year). An earlier work, her 2006 memoir King Kong Theory, is now playing at the Théâtre de l’Atelier in Paris. The book recounts how she was raped at age 17 and subsequently worked as a prostitute but Despentes rejects the idea of victimhood. Her experiences, although shocking, were, she says, formative.
Marlon James, Man Booker winner in 2015 with A Brief History of Seven Killings, recently returned to his native Jamaica (he teaches creative writing at Macalester College in Minnesota) for a spot of filmmaking. James and the British rapper Akala were strolling and chatting their way around Kingstown while making a documentary film about the cultural impact of the city on innumerable writers, musicians and artists. The film, one of the British Council's Walking Cities series, will shortly be posted on the Council's website.