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18 May 2011

Philip Roth wins the Man Booker International Prize

Is the Nobel next?

By Jonathan Derbyshire

Philip Roth has been awarded the fourth Man Booker International Prize. (Previous winners include Ismail Kadaré, Chinua Achebe and Alice Munro.)The other shortlisted writers were Juan Goytisolo, James Kelman, John le Carré, Amin Maalouf, David Malouf, Dacia Maraini, Rohinton Mistry, Philip Pullman, Marilynne Robinson, Su Tong, Anne Tyler and Wang Anyi. Roth is, by some distance, the finest novelist in that company. Is the Nobel Prize next?

The judging panel (comprising Rick Gekoski, Carmen Callil and Justin Cartwright) make the inevitable reference in their summing-up to Roth’s extraordinary fecundity over the past 15 years or so, at a stage in his life when “most novelists are in decline”. The most notable fruits of Roth’s Indian summer, 1995’s Sabbath’s Theater and American Pastoral, published two years later, are certainly among his most luminous achievements. But two slightly earlier novels stand out for me, both of them hectically metafictional works partly set in Israel: The Counterlife (1986)and Operation Shylock (1993). Let us know what your favourite Roth novel is in the comments box below.

UPDATE: The Guardian is reporting that Carmen Callil has resigned from the judging panel over the decision to give the prize to Roth. She is quoted as saying: “he goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book. It’s as though he’s sitting on your face and you can’t breathe”. If that’s what passes for literary deliberation in Callil’s book, then what was she doing on the panel in the first place?

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