A week in books
My opening ad hominem remarks are not irrelevant. The final meeting of the judges was, one gathers, a lively one, in which both Heaney and Bainbridge had their energetic supporters. Things probably got quite heated. When that happens, when emotions run high, surprising factors kick into the decision-making process. They enter unnoticed, their effect is inadvertent, and, crucially, we are none of us immune to them, try as we may.
In situations of uncertainty we all of us fall back on generally agreed ideas. Struggling to convince ourselves that our chosen candidate's book really is as good as we claim, we bolster our opinion with what is more broadly accepted than this merely particular instance.
Now, it is broadly accepted that older men have a certain gravitas, while older women remind us of our mothers. A man with a well-established literary reputation is reassuringly grand - his greying hair, even his occasional hesitations betoken a lifetime's serious thoughtfulness. A woman, however established her oeuvre, is possibly a bit fey, a trifle lightweight. The social conventions which even today encourage her to be hesitant and concessive in public tell heavily against her.
These are not judgments of writers' work. They are habitually unscrutinised bits of social baggage. When we do think about them, almost all of us are quick to insist that these are outmoded prejudices, and entirely irrelevant when we are trying to agree a ranking of this group of novelists, this collection of poets, or even (as in the case of the Whitbread) this shortlist of assorted poets, biographers and novelists.
Some people will retort that it is I who am prejudiced; that I wanted the woman to win. The truth is that all who judge literary prizes (as I did with the Whitbread novel category, but not the final award) genuinely believe that we are out to choose the very best book. But none of us, apparently, can resist the pressures which, time and again, mean that with candidates of closely comparable stature, it is the woman who loses.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Amber Peat: Body found in search for missing 13-year-old who ran away after argument with her parents
- 2 California man brutally beat 82-year-old Sikh grandfather he mistook for 'one of those people'
- 3 Gay teenager 'forced to have sex with his own mother' to 'cure' his homosexuality, campaigners in India say
- 4 Charles Kennedy 'had better judgement drunk than many sober politicians' says Ian Hislop
- 5 Fifa corruption: Qatar says investigations are racist, anti-Arab and show 'ugly face' of countries who lost 2022 World Cup bid
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 9, The Dance of Dragons: Jon Snow returns to The Wall after epic Battle of Hardhome
Touch-screen Teletubbies say hello: Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po are back, now with smart technology
Black Angel: Long lost Star Wars precursor to be made into crowdfunded feature film
Game of Thrones, season 5: heavy metal rockers Mastodon cameo as Wildlings in Hardhome
Environmental Photographer of the Year 2015 award: Shortlisted images go on show
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Church of England 'one generation away from extinction' after dramatic loss of followers