The Booker that's stranger than fiction
Thursday 24 July 1997
Novels on the Booker short list may be worthy and serious and respectable, but this one's different! It's about the murky, power-mad world of the Booker Prize itself, so it's got to be exciting and raunchy and thrilling and, dare I say it, sexy!
So here we go then with the opening extract from The Battle for the Booker by Arnold Feeney. Hold your seats!
"Giulia?" snarled Lord Booker into the intercom. "Get me Bragg on the phone. And make it snappy!"
"There's no need to snarl into the intercom," said Giulia coolly. "I'm right here in the room with you."
Lord Booker slammed the phone down and looked up in some surprise to see Giulia standing over him. She was a tall, imposing young woman of whom Lord Booker might have stood in awe if he ever had time to stand. But when you are the head of a huge international company and also trying to improve your public status by running prestigious literary prizes named after yourself, you don't waste time on young women, no matter how tall or imperious.
"And have you got Bragg on the phone yet?" said Lord Booker, still in snarling mode.
"What's it about?" said Giulia.
"It's about the Booker Prize," said Lord Booker. "I'm taking it away from the BBC and giving it to Channel 4."
"Are you indeed ?" said Giulia, looking down at Lord Booker. "I didn't even know that Channel 4 had written a novel."
There was a pause. Was Giulia making fun of him?
Lord Booker had many talents, but knowing when he was being made fun of was not one of them. After all, when you are the head of a huge international company and have a literary prize named after yourself, you don't really expect people to make fun of you.
Least of all the BBC.
"I get the feeling that the BBC has been taking the mickey out of me these last couple of years," said Lord Booker heavily. "They keep getting these judges, like Germaine Greer and Howard Jacobson, who actually criticise all the books on the list. Say they're unreadable and pretentious. Make fun of them. In public!"
"As a matter of fact, have you read any of the books on the last two short lists, sir?" enquired Giulia smoothly.
"I've tried a couple," grumbled Lord Booker, "but I couldn't get far. Too bloody pretentious and unreadable. Anyway, that's not the point. The point is to get Bragg on the phone and ask him if he'll take over the presentation. Or perhaps we ought to get Birt on the phone first."
"Bert who?" inquired Giulia.
"No, no, get Bragg first," said Lord Booker. "Better set up the new chairman before we shoot the old one."
Giulia paused for a moment before she left the room, so that we have a chance to describe her in more detail.
If this novel were being written by a man, we would say that she had slim hips and full, imperious breasts. If, however, this were being written by a female novelist, we would know that physical attributes attractive to the petty lusts of men do not necessarily tell you much about character, so we would simply record that Giulia had a look about her which told you that she knew much more about men than men would wish her to know about them - if they noticed, which is doubtful.
As, however, this novel is being written by a Post-Modernist committee of two men and two women masquerading as Arnold Feeney, we shall say that everything about Giulia was ambivalent. Even her name was ambivalent ...
A reader writes: What's ambivalent about her name?
Arnold Feeney writes: Well, her real name is Julia, but she chose to spell it the sexy Italian way.
A reader writes: That's nonsense. You can't spell the same name in two different ways.
Arnold Feeney writes: Of course you can. I have already spelt one word two different ways in this novel and you never noticed that.
A reader writes: Oh, yeah? Which word?
Arnold Feeney writes: "Inquire" and "enquire".
Blimey, so you have. Touche. OK, carry on!
More of this Post-Modernist thriller tomorrow.
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