'Maastricht' - a runaway bestseller

Click to follow
THE unanimous choice of The Maastricht Treaty as the 1992 winner of the Booker Prize was greeted last night as a triumph for European thinking and for the international movement in literature. Members of the judging panel said later that they had seldom met a work of fiction with such a sweep of history and such a commanding structure.

The basis of the work is the attempt by characters unnamed to build a political paradise in modern Europe. Written in pseudo- legal jargon, The Maastricht Treaty sets out the blueprint for a fictional future paradise on all levels - financial, social, political, even commercial.

'If it were just a parody of a nightmare bureaucratic view of Utopia, it would still be very interesting, and extremely funny,' said the judges in their citation. 'However, there is much, much more to the work. For a start, there is a feeling of great tension in it, because you can sense the unseen presence of many characters in the story, each fighting for their own selfish interests. Who are they? We never learn. What do they want so badly? We can only guess.

'We don't even know what happens in the end, because in a sense the novel never reaches the end - it only sets the stage for what may happen, and the main development of the novel is bound to happen after the novel has actually finished.'

This, say the judges, is just one of the many innovations in the mould-breaking winner. A second is its strict construction in the shape of a treaty. Another is that there is no central character to the novel - indeed, there are no named characters at all. They are referred to only by rank - the Commissioner, the President and so on.

'Because of this, some of our judges called the novel Kafkaesque, as if the new society envisaged in The Maastricht Treaty was a labyrinth of bureaucracy and menace. Others of us disagreed with this analysis, preferring to call the work Beckett- like. Just as in Beckett's plays, all the action seems to be taking place elsewhere, anywhere but in front of our eyes, so there was a very powerful feeling in The Maastricht Treaty that all the important things were happening off-stage.

'This built up to a very strong scenario in which you felt that all the pseudo-legal jargon was a deliberate smoke screen for dramatic power struggles, off to one side somewhere, which we could only guess at. Some of us found this oppressive; some of us found it satirically hilarious, and one or two of us found it just plain boring. But such is the massive, cumulative strength of the work that even those who found it boring did find it boring in a magisterial, apocalyptic sort of way.'

One curious feature of the novel is that it has no author - no named author, at least, as the work was submitted anonymously. But the judges all agreed that it was almost certainly the work of more than one writer.

'There is nothing in the rules against multiple authorship of a novel,' says the citation. 'It may be extremely unusual, but let us not forget that the Goncourt prize itself was founded by two brothers who wrote their novels together as a team.

'In the case of The Maastricht Treaty we felt that the number of writers was probably more than two. Nearer 100 in all probability. This came through in the way that some parts were written dead seriously, and others burst into comparative comedy, such as the section on the status of Danish holiday homes in other countries, or the diplomatic status of the Pope in a Vatican trading dispute] There was almost an Evelyn Waugh feeling about those passages, which we heartily welcomed.'

Another innovative feature was that the novel was submitted in six separate versions, which were all identical except that they were in six different languages. This, said the judges, left a delicious uncertainty about the identity of the language in which the novel had actually been written.

They also pointed out that it was the first time the Booker Prize had been awarded to a team of writers, and as the team no doubt included both sexes and many nationalities, this might help to allay some of the usual carping accusations of bias. None of the writers did in fact take the stand at the ceremony, as the prize was collected on their behalf by their agent, Jacques Delors, who gave a moving speech of thanks for the tribute accorded to The Maastrich Treaty and asked that the prize money be converted to German marks before it was handed over.