Self-interest

NS columnist is the bookies' favourite for the Man Booker Prize.

According to the latest bookmakers' odds, the New Statesman columnist Will Self is the favourite to win this year's Man Booker Prize with his novel Umbrella. The book was reviewed in the NS earlier this year by Brian Dillon. Umbrella, Dillon wrote, "is a complexly textured, conceptually forbidding thesis about the modern, its art and their discontents", with echoes of great modernists such as Joyce and Eliot, and also of Flaubert. "This being Self," Dillon went on, "there is also a great deal of humour".

Second favourite with the bookies is Hilary Mantel's historical novel about Thomas Cromwell Bring Up The Bodies, the sequel to the Booker-winning Wolf Hall, and the second novel in a projected trilogy. Bring Up the Bodies was reviewed for the NS by novelist Amanda Craig, not a fan of Wolf Hall. "What makes Bring Up the Bodies so different from its predecessor?" Craig asked. "I think it’s the emotional intelligence with which Henry, Boleyn, Crom­well and the rest are depicted as characters we can feel for, as opposed to just know about." Craig ended her review with a prediction: "Bring Up the Bodies should net its author another Booker Prize – deservedly, this time."

Mantel was profiled in a recent issue of the New Statesman by Sophie Elmhirst. Elmhirst tells a story about the night in October 2009 when Mantel won the Man Booker Prize.

“I worry about people who can’t make their voices heard . . . People like me from working-class backgrounds could sort of weasel through and I’m not sure that applies any more.” On the night of 6 October 2009, when Mantel won the Booker Prize for Wolf Hall, she sat at the Fourth Estate table with [her editor Nicholas] Pearson and, minutes before the announcement of the winner was due, she told him about a young writer she thought he should read. They were both anxious, hyper-aware that this was the career-transforming moment, that she was on the cusp of industry recognition long overdue, but she thought she would use the time and the opportunity to recommend a new author to her publisher.

The other novels on this year's Man Booker Prize shortlist are:

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

Swimming Home by Deborah Levy

The Lighthouse by Alison Moore

Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil (reviewed for the NS by Anita Sethi)

The winner of the prize will be announced at a ceremony tonight at the Guildhall in London. The judges are Sir Peter Stothad (chair), Amanda Foreman, Dan Stevens, Bharat Tandon and Dinah Birch.

Frontrunner: Will Self, favourite for this year's Man Booker Prize (Photo: Man Booker Prize)
Don't Tell the Bride YouTube screengrab
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How did Don’t Tell the Bride lose its spark?

Falling out of the love with reality TV’s wedding planning hit.

Steph, 23, from Nottinghamshire, is standing in a drizzly field wearing a wedding dress. Her betrothed, Billy, is running around in a tweed flat cap trying to make some pigs walk in “a continuous parade”. A man from Guinness World Records is watching with a clipboard, shaking his head. Bridesmaids gaze sorrowfully into the middle distance, each in a damp pig onesie.

Thus ends the second wedding in E4’s new series of Don’t Tell the Bride – and the programme’s integrity with it.

When the classic programme, which follows grooms attempting to plan their wedding (punchline: human males doing some organising), began a decade ago on BBC Three, it had the raw spark of unpredictability. For eight years, the show did nothing fancy with the format, and stuck with pretty ordinary couples who had few eccentric aspirations for their wedding day.

This usually resulted in run-of-the-mill, mildly disappointing weddings where the worst thing that happened would be a reception at the nearest motorway pub, or an ill-fitting New Look low heel.

It sounds dull, but anyone who has religiously watched it knows that the more low-key weddings expose what is truly intriguing about this programme: the unconditional commitment – or doomed nature – of a relationship. As one of the show’s superfans told the Radio Times a couple of years ago:

“It’s perfect, and not in an ironic or post-ironic or snarky way. The format has the solemn weight of a ceremony . . . Don’t Tell the Bride is not about ruined weddings, it’s about hope. Every wedding is a demonstration of how our ambitions curve away from our abilities. It’s a show about striving to deserve love and how that’s rarely enough.”

It also meant that when there were bombshells, they were stand-out episodes. High drama like Series 4’s notorious Las Vegas wedding almost resulting in a no-show bride. Or heart-warming surprises like the geezer Luke in Series 3 playing Fifa and guzzling a tinny on his wedding morning, who incongruously pulls off a stonking wedding day (complete with special permission from the Catholic Church).

For its eight years on BBC Three, a few wildcard weddings were thrown into the mix of each series. Then the show had a brief affair with BBC One, a flirt with Sky, and is now on its tenth year, 13th series and in a brand new relationship – with the more outrageous E4.

During its journey from BBC Three, the show has been losing its way. Tedious relationship preamble has been used to beef up each episode. Some of the grooms are cruel rather than clueless, or seem more pathetic and vulnerable than naïve. And wackier weddings have become the norm.

The programme has now fully split from its understated roots. Since it kicked off at the end of July, every wedding has been a publicity stunt. The pig farm nuptials are sandwiched between a Costa del Sol-based parasail monstrosity and an Eighties Neighbours-themed ceremony, for example. All facilitated by producers clearly handing the groom and best men karaoke booth-style props (sombreros! Inflatable guitars! Wigs!) to soup up the living room planning process.

Such hamminess doesn’t give us the same fly-on-the-wall flavour of a relationship as the older episodes. But maybe this level of artifice is appropriate. As one groom revealed to enraged fans in The Sun this week, the ceremonies filmed are not actually legally binding. “It makes a bit of a mockery of the process that the bride and groom go through this huge ordeal for a ceremony which isn’t even legal,” he said. Perhaps we should’ve predicted it would all eventually end in divorce – from reality.

Don’t Tell the Bride is on E4 at 9pm

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.