The official winner of the Man Booker International Prize was announced last night with A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen taking the £50,000 prize split equally between author and translator. The novel about a stand-up comedian going into meltdown on stage has been praised by the judges as “an extraordinary story that soars in the hands of a master storyteller” and “a mesmerising meditation on the opposite forces shaping our lives: humour and sorrow, loss and hope, cruelty and compassion, and how even in the darkest hours we find the courage to carry on.”
With an overlap of four books between the official shortlist and the shadow panel shortlist, myself and other shadow panel members thought there was a good chance that we would choose the same winner three years in a row following The Vegetarian by Han Kang in 2016 and The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck in its IFFP incarnation in 2015. However, ‘A Horse Walks into a Bar’ didn’t even make the cut on the shadow panel shortlist and none of us predicted that it would take the overall prize. The book is certainly striking but as I said in my review, I can see why the tone might come across as too alienating for some readers. It will be interesting to see how a wider readership responds to it following its win.
We can now announce that our shadow panel winner is Compass by Mathias Enard translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell. While I said in my review that it was a bit dry for my personal taste, it is undoubtedly ambitious in scope and it is great to see recognition for independent publisher Fitzcarraldo Editions on the official shortlist and now as our shadow panel winner.
It’s worth mentioning that The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw came a very, very close second in our shadow panel deliberations. It received the same number of votes in the final round of voting but with nobody willing to change their top choice, we ended up using the scores from the first round of voting to decide our winner with ‘The Unseen’ being pipped to the post by just 0.1 points when averages were calculated. Regular readers of my blog will know that ‘The Unseen’ was one of my favourite recent discoveries and my preferred choice on a very strong shortlist.
As ever, I have really enjoyed participating in the shadow panel this year. Many thanks to Tony and Stu for coordinating our discussions once again and congratulations to David Grossman, Jessica Cohen, Mathias Enard and Charlotte Mandell for their respective official and unofficial wins!
Have you read ‘A Horse Walks into a Bar’? Do you think it is a worthy winner?