OK, I’ll admit it. I don’t like Margaret Atwood’s writing. In some circles, this is akin to saying you’re a devil worshipper who spends their weekends ensconced in a dungeon of pain with other ostracised members of the community.
Yes, I know she’s a multi-award winning author. Yes, I’m aware she has sold millions of books. But I thought The Blind Assassin – for which she won the Booker Prize – was one of the dullest novels I’ve ever had the misfortune to read. I was willing it to end, much in the same way that I longed for Anna Karenina to fling herself under that train and put both me and her out of our misery.
I learned some years back that denouncing a bestseller or criticising a so-called ‘classic’ writer is a risky business; conversations down the pub stop in their tracks, friends look at you askance, wondering if you’ve lost your mind. Take one of American’s most adored writers, for example. Philip Roth has been awarded every accolade under the sun, including the Pulitzer, but I loathed The Human Stain (his novel set in late 1990s rural New England) with every fibre of my being. It has been called one of the best books of the 21st century but it left me cold. Not so for one of my mates who I am sure is still baffled by my feelings on the matter.
Maybe it’s better to keep one’s thoughts on literature to oneself. I remember declaring in the office at a previous job that The Secret History by Donna Tartt was an overblown piece of piffle that would have benefited from a cut of, oh, about 300 of its pages. Cue an appalled silence and silent judging of my character.
Of course, literary prizes don’t automatically ensure that you the reader will like the judges’ choice. I bought Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture after it won book of the year at the 2008 Costa Awards. At the time, the jury admitted it had misgivings. Matthew Parris, one of the panel, said: ‘They agreed that it was flawed, and almost no one liked the ending, which was almost fatal to its success.’ A film of the book was released earlier this year. It’s safe to say I didn’t go and see it.
Next week, the winner of arguably the most prestigious fiction award will be announced, guaranteeing the victor £50,000 and a massive surge in sales worldwide. To coincide with the Man Booker Prize, an enterprising PR has calculated the value of first edition Booker prize-winning novels over the past 15 years.
According to Gocompare.com Money, every single book that has won the coveted prize has seen a significant uplift in cost. Overall, first editions of Booker winners have soared in value by 826 per cent. Last year’s winner, A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, has seen the biggest rise in worth with a huge 7,009 per cent (£400) increase on its original RRP.
Meanwhile, DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little, sold for £12.99 back in 2003, has rocketed by 1,686 per cent – a signed first edition now goes for £581.
However, the most valuable Booker Prize winner of the past 15 years is Hilary Mantel’s 2009 novel Wolf Hall, which was made into a BBC television series last year. A signed first edition of the prize-winning book is worth £1,100, a whopping 5,693 per cent increase on its £18.99 RRP, with an unsigned copy fetching as much as £600.
So, collectors who went the extra mile to secure signed copies could see a rise of 2,250 per cent on their purchase. On average, a signature increased the value of the winning novels by 154 per cent, making it worth the trip to the next book signing event.
Unsigned first editions of the 2016 Man Booker Prize shortlist are currently priced between £65-£130, so making the effort to get the copy signed could add to the novel’s value down the line.
And what of Margaret Atwood’s Blind Assassin? According to Gocompare, an unsigned first edition will net £55. I dash up to the attic with a spring in my step only to find that my copy was published some four years after the original. That book is the gift that keeps on giving.
Helen Nugent is Online Money Editor of The Spectator