Watching the Review Show the other night – you know, the one that used to be Newsnight Review and prior to that Late Review. They change the name, they change the set, but it’s the same old faces. Pretty much. Gravel-voiced Rosie Boycott, Dame-Edna-with-a-PhD Germaine Greer, mild-mannered Professor John Mullan and novelist China Miéville, this week’s voice of reason, all kept in line, just about, by twitchy twinkly-eyed Tim Marlow. They were discussing the Man Booker Prize shortlist. They rattled through the six books – I’d give you their titles and authors, but what’s the point, since they’re virtually identical to last year’s and the year’s before that — and then up pops so-called comedian and former Booker judge Sue Perkins to give us the inside view on the prize. Loitering with confidently trousered swagger by a table of books in a bookshop somewhere, she tells us how it works.
Every publisher gets to submit two novels, so they tend to play it safe, she explains. Actually, this is not always true, as publishers sometimes leave out their biggest names, confident that the judges will call in those titles, as they are at liberty to do. But did she also tell us how much it costs a publisher if one of their books makes it to the shortlist? Did she fuck. If a book reaches the shortlist, its publisher is charged a cool five grand – yes, £5000 – as a contribution to publicity costs.
Man Booker claims this is not a disincentive to small publishers, who might want to enter a couple of novels from their lists and who have every right to do so, in spite of lacking the resources of Cape or Bloomsbury or Picador or Headline. Do we believe them? Do we fuck.