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The Booker has lost the plot

Margaret Atwood and Bernadine Evaristo sharing the Booker. Jeff Spicer/Getty

Will Smith’s slap may have thrust the Oscars into the spotlight, says Tristram Fane Saunders in The Daily Telegraph, but it’s not the only awards ceremony to have lost the plot. Last year the Golden Globes was practically cancelled after it emerged that no one on the 87-person judging panel was black. In 2018, the Nobel Prize for literature was called off after one of its judges was ensnared in #MeToo revelations.

But the silliest, by some margin, is the Booker Prize. According to the author Philip Hensher, both a former judge and nominee, the panel barely bother to read all the entries. One of his fellow judges dismissed a nominated novel because he didn’t like the look of the author’s photograph. In 2019, the panel split the award between two writers, Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo. One of the judges, Afua Hirsch, explained that it was impossible to compare Atwood’s “titanic career” to the “hugely underrated” Evaristo. She seemed to have forgotten that the point is not to compare writers, but to compare their writing. Hensher has a solution: make the judges anonymous. That way, he says, they “couldn’t choose a book to advertise their moral standing”. We’d get better prize winners for it: “Books that were funny, books that were just well-written, books that were brilliant but in bad taste, all those things that English literature has historically been very good at.”