On 16 October 2012 Hilary Mantel won the Man Booker Prize – currently the most recognised literary prize in the English-speaking world – for the second time. This win, for Bring up the Bodies, made Mantel the first woman and the first British author to win it twice, as well as the first to win for a sequel to a novel which had previously won the Booker – Wolf Hall. I love statistics, however random.
Prizes are funny things. As Mantel accepted the honour (and cheque for £50,000) she commented that you can wait years to be awarded a Booker Prize and then two come along at once . It seems, though, that it’s not just Booker prizes that are in the news at the moment. This year saw the somewhat sensational announcement, a week prior to its awards ceremony at the end of May, that the Orange Prize (or to give it its old title, the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction) would no longer be known as the Orange – or indeed any colour at all – as its sponsor had decided to concentrate on other projects. While those of us who adore symmetry were hoping that the Orange would be replaced by the Apple, it seems that there is to be a lull in the corporate sponsorship of what will next year be known by the somewhat stern and worthy title of the Women’s Prize for Fiction.
But at least with this appellation the prize will unambiguously be doing what it says on the tin. Two new prizes for women’s fiction have been launched in the last week, with intriguing if slightly confusing names: The Stella Prize, for a fiction or non-fiction work written by an Australian woman, and Canada’s Rosalind Prize, concentrating solely on women’s fiction. Even though it appears to be all chop and change in the book-awards world two aspects remain certain: the choice of whoever is finally the recipient of a major prize will, typically, only satisfy half the critics and reading public; and there certainly seems to be room for more high-profile awards of this nature. All in all this can only benefit those of us who love books.
I leave the last word on the subject to Lewis Carroll and his anarchic Caucus Race: ‘At last the Dodo said, “Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.”’