28 January 2009

Costa Book Awards 2009

Let's just do a quick review of what the Costa Book Awards are, shall we? Named by wikipedia as one of the U.K.'s most prestigious literary prizes, they were originally called the Whitbread Book Awards. Most people may not know that Costa is actually a subsidiary of Whitbread, so essentially sponsorship has stayed within the company. So basically, they were sponsored by a hospitality giant and now are sponsored by a coffee chain. They often award the prize for best novel on populist terms, weighing the quality of the literature against the appeal it has to the masses. I like to think of them as the book award that caters (hah) to the lowest common denominator.
That being said, we shouldn't begin to judge the winner until we have actually opened the covers and had a bit of a read.

Just like we shouldn't assume greatness with the Man Booker or Pulitzer awards. I mean, what happened in 2006? The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai beat out several promising contenders, none more so than The Secret River by Kate Grenville. The latter had all the fixings of a modern-day masterpiece and Grenville's predigree to back it up. Instead, the award went to Desai, who wrote a well-written, nicely thought-out story.
No X-factor = no award in my mind, but I'm not on the judging panel.

Don't even get me started on the PUH-LEASEitzer. I'm not suggesting Geraldine Brooks isn't a wonderful author. However I've only ever seen this wonderful authorship in one novel: The Year of Wonders. It's always a bad sign I feel when everyone considers your first novel your best. Better to stop right there and be a one-hit wonder than slowly peter towards the pedestrian. March, winner of the 2006 Pulitzer (maybe it was something about that year) was nothing more than glorified fan fiction. And People of the Book was interesting in the historical sections, but ruined by the interspersing of the most annoying 'modern' woman Brooks could conjure to tie the story together.

The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry has just been announced the winner of this year's Costa Book Awards. It was actually nominated for the Man Booker last year, which is why I realised it sounded so familiar, yet was also sure I hadn't read it. I'm not sure the actual award is a consolation prize for missing out on the Booker, (COFFEE award people, it's a COFFEE AWARD), but I'm sure the 25 000 pounds will help.
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