In the lists

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The Independent Culture
These days, even the judges seem to succumb to Booker Prize ennui. Before the shortlist was ritually pounced upon last week, chairman John Bayley rued the dearth of well-written contemporary fiction. The FT quoted an 'astonished man of letters' (who he?) declaring that the list had 'dealt a final death blow to the Booker'. Really? Well, the wonderful fact is that the Booker does sell books. The figures in our list are only for the 12 months after publication: Roddy Doyle's total hardback sales have risen to around 360,000; others reached much higher totals, too. Doyle's soaraway success might have owed something to his loyal Irish readership (and a hardback cover price that was reduced to pounds 9.99 after he won), but Kazuo Ishiguro's story about a depressed butler and Thomas Keneally's Holocaust tale both sold brilliantly long before they were turned into movies. And the hardback sales are only the beginning. Ben Okri's The Famished Road (1991) doesn't make the top ten (in fact, before the book was shortlisted its sales only amounted to an embarrassing three figures) but in paperback it shifted a pleasing 250,000 copies. A lot of people, it seems, cling stubbornly to the notion that literary fiction - and even the Booker - are alive and well.