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Ish and kid-lit

Ish and kid-lit

The 1989 Booker Prize winner (and Nobel laureate) Kazuo Ishiguro has been talking about his new novel, Klara and the Sun. The book looks at AI and robotics, is set in a not-too-distant future and centres on the relationship between an artificial “friend”, Klara, and her teenage owner, Josie. In the course of the story a blizzard of ethical and existential questions is thrown up. So, it is disconcerting to hear Ishiguro confess that the novel was originally intended to be his first attempt at writing a children’s book. “I had this very sweet story,” he says. “I thought it would fit one of those lovely illustrated books.” So what happened? “I ran it past Naomi [his daughter] and she looked at me very stony-faced and said: ‘You can’t possibly give young children a story like that. They will be traumatised.’” Klara and the Sun is published next week, so it remains to be seen whether the nation’s children owe Naomi a debt of gratitude.

George Saunders, 2017 Man Booker Prize winner, is a practising Buddhist and it can be felt in his work. “We might think of every moment of life as a moment of reading,” he said in a recent interview. “Something presents to us (a person, a paragraph) and we have a visceral and immediate reaction. We just do. What do we do with that reaction? I’d say the first thing is to let it be. Bless it or validate it or however you want to say it. That reaction was real, so give it its due.” What he really seems to be advocating here is slow reading – don’t rush through a book but let it sink in. In Saunders’ world reading is not a form of consumption but of meditation.

Proof that we’re all in it together – or most of us at least. One might have thought that the indefatigable Bernardine Evaristo had no time for plaintive regrets but lockdown has got to her too. A recent tweet read: “Inspiring view from my café these past few months. Grab a coffee and sit in my car drinking it imagining I’m in Café de Paris.” Who knew that that’s what the life of the mind really meant?

The longlist for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction has just been announced and among the 11 contenders a clutch of Bookerites is contending for the honour and the £25,000 prize. Rose Tremain (a former shortlistee and judge) is there for Islands of Mercy, the double Booker laureate Hilary Mantel is there for The Mirror and the Light, and the double nominee Abdulrazak Gurnah features for Afterlives. Nothing seems certain in the world at the moment and dates are proving exceptionally flexible, but whether the trio makes it on to the shortlist should be revealed in April.

A new prize for women novelists has just been announced, the Carol Shields Prize for Fiction, named after the twice Booker Prize-shortlisted author Carol Shields, who died in 2003. The award, worth a whopping Canadian $150,000, is for women writers in the USA and Canada. Melinda Gates, the philanthropist wife of the not-short-of-a-penny Bill Gates, has stumped up Canadian $250,000 to get things going. Of course the announcement of the new award will spark debate as to whether another women-only prize is necessary, especially since there is a long-standing version in existence in the form of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, which is UK based but open to female novelists from around the world, whilst the Booker Prize has been open to writers of all genders for the whole of its history.