Novels and short story collections translated into English and published in the UK will be eligible for the annual Man Booker International Prize with a longlist of twelve or thirteen novels announced in March, a shortlist in April and the winner in May. Like the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the award will be shared equally between the author and translator.
The original Man Booker International Prize was unique in that it was previously awarded every two years to an author for their whole body of work available in English. However, it wasn’t without its issues. Jonathan Taylor, chair of the Booker Prize Foundation made the point this week that the original Prize lost momentum as a result of only being awarded every two years whereas it will now be an annual prize again like the IFFP. Moreover, although this year’s longlist was noticeably more cosmopolitan with the Prize awarded to Hungarian writer László Krasnahorkai in May, it was becoming increasingly difficult for the judges to find authors with a substantial number of novels translated into English. The previous three winners were American or Canadian (Alice Munro in 2009, Philip Roth in 2011 and Lydia Davis in 2013), raising some questions about whether or not the Prize was truly international as it didn’t exclusively focus on translated fiction.
Daniel Hahn writing in the Guardian suggests that the Booker Prize should move towards “offering simply a Man Booker prize for a book, and a Man Booker prize for a career, each of them open to everyone, regardless of original language”. It’s an interesting idea, although what I liked most about the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize was that it gave equal recognition to both the translator and author – a concept which remains at the centre of the reconfigured Prize. Hahn’s proposal of a career vs single book prize structure including English language books probably wouldn’t allow for that, or at least not fairly. What struck me most about seeing this year’s IFFP winners Jenny Erpenbeck and Susan Bernofsky speaking at the Hay Festival earlier this year was the sense of partnership between the author and translator and it is definitely a good thing that this hasn’t been lost in the reconfigured Prize.
For me, the creation of the new award is not so much the equal merging of two prizes, but rather the absorption of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize under the Man Booker Prize umbrella, with a slightly shorter longlist and a much larger amount of prize money. Although somewhat inevitable, it is a shame that the main element of the original Man Booker International Prize celebrating a body of work hasn’t been retained, as I believe that consistency in literature deserves to be recognised as much as stand-alone novels. However, perhaps it could be a significant part of an alternative literary award in the future instead.
Whatever happens, hopefully the new Man Booker International Prize will be good news for translated fiction by encouraging more people to read novels from around the world and more publishers to invest in them. It will certainly provide a publicity boost which the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize often lacked, and probably an image boost too.
What are your thoughts on the new Prize? Do you think it will help promote translated fiction?