The Nobel Prize in Literature 2008
It’s that time of year again, where we all go running to our search engines and tap in the name of the latest Nobel laureate. In recent years the Swedish Academy have been kind to us in recognising some names with which we were already familiar (Pinter, Pamuk, and Lessing) after the resounding who? from British shores that came with the announcement that Elfriede Jelinek was the new laureate in 2004.
This year, like every other year, Ladbrokes trots out its odds once more and the same old names tend to appear. Perennial candidates include the Swedish poet, Tomas Tranströmer, the Syrian poet, Adonis, and Korean poet, Ko Un. The Finnish poet, Paavo Haavikko, officially withdrew from the running when he passed away earlier in the week. On top of the poets other favourites include a wave of American novelists, such as Philip Roth, Thomas Pynchon, Paul Auster and, er, Bob Dylan. Although their chances of winning may be zilch following on from comments made by Horace Engdahl, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, earlier in the week saying that the United States “too isolated, too insular” and doesn’t really “participate in the big dialogue of literature.”
There’s a wealth of names, drawn from all over the world, appearing on a discussion at World Literature Forum, with fingers crossed for Umberto Eco, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Andreï Makine, amongst many others.
For me, what with such a pool of names and most not sampled, all I can do is take a wild stab in the dark. The name that keeps coming to mind is Arnošt Lustig. It may be because he scooped the Franz Kafka Prize earlier this year – Jelinek and Pinter were both awarded this in consecutive years before becoming Nobel laureates those same years – but it’s also because of selfish reasons: I would like a novelist to win it, pretty much because I rarely read poetry or drama. My loss.
That said, who I would really like to see recognised, not having read him either, is Tomas Tranströmer. The Swedish Academy haven’t announced a Scandinavian laureate since the controversy in 1974 where Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson, members of the Academy, became Nobel laureates. I’d like to think, what with all Academy members from that time now dead, that the Swedish Academy feels it can now recognise its own again.
EDIT: In a way I’m rather happy with the announcement of Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio as this year’s Nobel laureate as I’d never heard of him before, save for a bit of speculation in the run-up to the announcement, so he’s a new name to go looking for. Sadly, having looked around, his books are rather hard to come by, so there’s no getting ahead of the game, so to speak. It will be fun to see how quick he rushes back to print and who will have the honour of bringing him back to book store shelves.
October 9, 2008