Irish author John Banville was the surprise winner of the Man Booker Prize this year for his novel The Sea. The Booker Prize for Fiction was originally set up by Booker plc. in 1969 to raise the public profile of authors, reward writing excellence and increase interest in modern fiction writing. The annual competition is open to all fiction writers from the British Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland. The Booker is awarded to the best full-length novel written that year, which is judged by a panel made up of critics, writers and academics.
Banville was a rank outsider in this year’s event that also had Irish writer Sebastian Barry shortlisted for A Long Long Way. The only other native Irish winner was Dubliner Roddy Doyle for Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha in 1993.
Another former Booker winner with Irish ties was the British writer J.G. Farrell who won in 1973 with Siege of Krishnapur. Farrell’s mother was from Dublin and he spent all his school holidays in Ireland, which had a profound effect on him. Like many of his time, he felt that he was always treated as being English when he was in Ireland and Irish when in England.
Born in 1945 in Wexford, Banville now lives in Dublin. He was previously nominated in 1989 for his novel The Book of Evidence, and has published 16 novels in total. The Sea is a novel about a recently widowed man who returns to the seaside villa where he vacationed as a child. Not only is the Booker the U.K.’s highest literary accolade, it comes with £50,000 prize money and guarantees an enormous hike in sales. This will please Banville’s publishers, as prior to winning the Booker only 3,318 copies of The Sea had been sold in the UK.
In his acceptance speech Banville thanked his editor, publisher and agent for staying with him despite his writing “many unsaleable books over the years.” ♦