A week in books: Breaking down the boundaries

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When the high-flying Man Group of investment managers took over the Booker sponsorship, thoughts turned fast to the idea of American entries for the prize. The booming hedge-fund outfit evidently wanted to expand across the Atlantic. Its top brass hinted that an extension of the Booker remit might not come amiss. Soon, cautious commentators raised the spectre of toiling judges smothered beneath a pile not of 120 or 130, but of 400 or 500, novels every summer. Little more was heard of the suggestion.

Then, on Tuesday evening, a perfect compromise solution crystallised in front of diners at the British Museum. You can still restrict Man Booker eligibility to Commonwealth- or Irish-born authors. Just make sure that the cheque goes to a novel wholly "American" in every other respect.

I enjoyed, and admired, Vernon God Little. Peter "Dirty But Clean" Finlay deserves a long and luminous career in fiction as "DBC Pierre". The Mexican-Australian's novel pulls off a triumph of ventriloquism in its hilarious but harrowing monologue of a teenage Texan scapegoat on Death Row. As ever, the Booker judges went about their taxing tasks with awesome diligence.

And yet - this honest reward for an invigorating novel might fill with foreboding anyone who hopes that English-language fiction can thrive against the American grain. DJ Taylor - outnumbered four to one at the judges' final meeting - called the victor "essentially an American novel". Garrulous, profane, loveable Vernon sounds just as local, and as global, as Eminem or Bart Simpson.

Cultural historians will merely wonder why it took so long for a purely transatlantic voice (or, in Finlay's case, trans-Pacific voice) to snatch the prize. This year alone, the long-list also revealed an eminent literary Brit in thrall to all the sounds of America: Jonathan Raban, with his Seattle-set Waxwings. As for Martin Amis, no mature novel of his could keep up its spirits for a single page without the half-hidden cadences of Saul Bellow. Bellow's Chicago speech haunts Amis even as he dives into the scuzziest of Ladbroke Grove pubs.

Ocean-crossing give-and-take has brightened the English-speaking novel ever since the time of Henry James. So perhaps we have no need to fret about the evolution of Brit or Aussie writers into virtual Americans. John Carey - as chairman of the Booker panel - praised Vernon God Little as "a scintillating black comedy satirising George W Bush's America". Given the cowed political mood in much of the US today, non-citizens might deliver fiercer satire than most native authors could.

In the early 21st century, a cosmopolitan creator such as "DBC Pierre" may well find her- or himself thinking, speaking and writing American. You could call this "cultural imperialism", or destiny, or simply history. At any rate, the growth of a planetary consciousness with a Stateside accent will make Booker-style frontier policing look not just tired, but silly too. Young Vernon will spawn plenty of progeny: books by British, Australian, Indian or Caribbean novelists steeped from infancy in the rhythms of America's speech and the rituals of its culture. (I suspect Canadians could hold out for longer.) And with every elective "American" who enters the prize arena, the Booker form of territorial control will seem more archaic.

Peter Finlay's distant past as a vendor of other people's property has intrigued the media. Could "DBC Pierre" also go down in literary history as the man who (unwittingly) sold the Booker Prize?

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