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David Diop’s contentment

David Diop’s contentment

It seems safe to say that David Diop was not the individual who paid $28 million to join Jeff Bezos and his brother on a boutique space flight. In a recent magazine Q&A, Diop was asked ‘In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?’ and responded: ‘I’m fond of the present. I wouldn’t like to live anywhere but on Earth: I couldn’t live on Mars, for instance. If I had to live elsewhere, I’d take everyone with me.’ For most people the present is some way from being a golden age, Diop, however, is a happy man. When asked ‘What single thing would make your life better?’ he responded succinctly: ‘In the current state of affairs, I have nothing to ask of life.’ But then he has just won the International Booker Prize.

Dame Hilary Mantel is such a prize magnet that it seems she has had a thin time of late – a part of that is from the massive sales, the acclamation, the column inches, The Booker Prize longlisting and the announcement of the stage version of The Mirror and the Light. Now, however, the last volume of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy has picked up its first major gong, the £25,000 Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction. Volume one, Wolf Hall, gained her a first Walter Scott win a decade or so ago but Mantel seemed particularly thrilled this time round. Writing the book, she said, ‘was certainly the hardest thing I’ve ever done’, and in a rare comment about self-evaluation, she added: ‘I know the author isn’t always the best person to judge, but it seems to me to be the strongest of my trilogy of novels about Thomas Cromwell.’ She must also be relieved that the last remaining space on her mantelpiece has now been filled.

Congratulations to Lemn Sissay. The official poet of the 2012 Olympics, chancellor of Manchester University, board member of the Foundling Hospital (founded by William Hogarth and George Frederic Handel among others), has just been awarded an OBE for services to literature and charity in the Queen’s birthday honours list. Meanwhile, the eminent publisher Margaret Busby was awarded a CBE. It may be simple coincidence but both these literary big wigs were judges on last year’s Booker Prize. Perhaps the Queen has an inkling of the daunting workload the judges take on and rewarded them accordingly. Just a thought. . .

A headline that stood out this week was ‘Star spotted at Lido’. It begged the questions, who is the star and where is the lido? The answers are Bill Nighy and Worthing. The actor was in the south coast town to film a movie called Living, about a 1950s civil servant. The real news is that a bigger star has written the screenplay – The Booker Prize winner and Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro (Nighy has a BAFTA and a trio of Golden Globes but quite frankly they’re not a Booker Prize win). Sir Kaz is responsible for the English-language adaptation of the 1952 Japanese film Ikiru by the fabled cinéaste Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa’s film was in turn inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich. As literary pedigrees go, that’s not too bad.

In further illustrations that really good writers tend not to be one-hit wonders, two more Bookerites are back in the nomination game. So congratulations to Aravind Adiga, Booker Prize winner in 2008 with The White Tiger, who has just been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, Australia’s leading literary prize, for his most recent work, Amnesty. The winner of the $60,000 prize will be announced on 15 July. Meanwhile, Colum McCann’s Apeirogon, longlisted for last year’s Booker Prize, has just been nominated for the 2021 Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award which celebrates ‘the best contemporary storytelling, regardless of genre’. It may seem odd, but his profound novel about a Palestinian and an Israeli who have both lost daughters in the never-ending troubles is up against a reworking of the Jack the Ripper story, a sci-fi fantasy, the story of a second French Revolution, and spookiness and sin in Elizabethan London.

The 2021 International Booker Prize Trophies