Barnes has finally won his full house, and deservedly so. His novella is a near-perfect study in tight, suspenseful writing that marries a gripping and fluid plot with immense narrative profundity. Yet the victory was a compromised one, set against the wheels of a jury that seemed to be desperately backpedalling from its search for a "zipping read".
The inverse snobbery in their quest for a shortlist that aimed no higher than middlebrow didn't just trigger the annual literary dust storm but an open loathing, as well as an alternative literary prize and damning words from last year's judge, Andrew Motion, who gave an ardent public endorsement to Barnes' novel.
By choosing the only literary heavyweight on the shortlist (Alan Hollinghurst, Graham Swift, Ali Smith, Philip Hensher, were all weeded out), the panel's decision rung a false note, or perhaps a chastened one.
Barnes's novel, along with Carol Birch's, was undoubtedly the most accomplished on a shortlist abounding with debut novels and genre reads. Yet it seems like a case of choosing the right author in the wrong year. His book is superb but perhaps light when seen against his oeuvre. There are parallels to draw between this win, and Ian McEwan's Booker victory for Amsterdam in 1998, when the jury appeared to recognise a deserving author.Reuse content