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The Booker prize has triggered a bout of literary protectionism

1 December 2016

11:59 AM

1 December 2016

11:59 AM

Whatever happened to all those great liberal internationalists who damned the vote for Brexit as a case of isolationist Britain turning its back on the outside world? Julian Barnes, for example, is so pro-EU that not only was he against Brexit, he recently told the FT that he would still like Britain to join the Euro.

It is a somewhat different story, though, when the literary establishment sees a threat to its cosy little world. Then, they come over all protectionist. Barnes is now bleating about the Booker prize being opened up to US writers. ‘The Americans have got enough prizes of their own,’ he complains.


Novelist Amanda Craig was quick to play the internationalist over Brexit. In July, for example, she enthusiastically tweeted a link to a programme by Mary Beard which attacked Brexit voters for their small-minded nationalism. Now, though, Craig is upset by the thought of having to compete with American authors. She says: ‘The point is, Americans are not only different culturally but they have loads more support via creative writing programmes – they can actually make a living as literary novelists. We can’t.’ In other words, British authors are a special case, who need protecting against US competition. Therefore they should have a literary prize reserved for them.

Why the fear of competition from American authors? It makes no sense to have an international literary prize for novels written in English and then to exclude the most populous nation which speaks the language. Surely if British novelists are worth their salt they will win the prize anyway. Or maybe they don’t have confidence in their product.


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