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Booker Prize for Fiction > 1978 Booker Shortlist Discussion

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message 1: by Trevor (last edited Oct 03, 2016 09:43AM) (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1842 comments Mod
Here we go!

As a group, we have decided to start a group read of the 1978 Booker Shortlist, the year Iris Murdoch's The Sea, the Sea won.

If you are reading this, you can join in the discussion as much or as little as you'd like. No one should feel obligated to read the entire shortlist. Read what you like, discuss what you like, have fun.

Here's the general setup:
1. Use this thread to discuss the year and its shortlist in general.
2. Use threads set up for individual books to discuss those individual books.
3. Use the dynamic ranking thread (here) to tell us how you stack the books up against each other.

Below are links to all of the individual discussion threads:

1978
The Sea, the Sea, Iris Murdoch
A Five-Year Sentence, Bernice Rubens
God on the Rocks, Jane Gardam
Jake's Thing, Kingsley Amis
Rumours of Rain, Andre Brink
The Bookshop, Penelope Fitzgerald

One thing we haven't done yet is establish a time-line for the read-along. Seems two or three months might be a good amount before doing another year. Even if we have moved on, though, the threads will stay right where they are so folks can add their thoughts in the years to come.

I think we should call this a read-along for November, December, and January can be a transition month in which people can finish what they are doing for 1978 and we can set up a new year for discussion, which could begin in February 2017.


message 2: by Amanda (new)

Amanda (tnbooklover) | 96 comments I am very excited about this whole project of reading past booker lists. I wish that I had the time to read every book on every list but alas I don't. I haven't read any of the books on the 1978 list. I am going to read The Sea, The Sea and The Bookshop for sure and I will try and read one other probably God on the Rocks.

I think the 3 month timeline with the 3rd month as a transition month is perfect.

As an aside I was 12 in 1978 :)


message 3: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3166 comments Mod
Amanda, snap! My 12th birthday was in 1978. I have read The Sea, The Sea and the Bookshop, and hope to read some of the others soon, my overflowing to-read shelf notwithstanding. I suspect that it may be a few weeks before I get into this properly, but I will make a start by ranking the ones I have read.


message 4: by Trudie (new)

Trudie (trudieb) This setup looks great Trevor !
I agree the three month time frame seems perfect to be able to dip in and out as we read books from the list.
I will likely start The Sea The Sea sometime later this month and am fairly sure I can read some others in that time.


message 5: by Dan (new)

Dan I agree that this looks terrific, as does the November-December-January timeframe. I hope that some of us read or reread Bernice Rubens' A Five Year Sentence (Favors): I would welcome your reactions to it.


message 6: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3166 comments Mod
I have just ordered the Brink and the Gardam. It might take me a while to get round to either - there is plenty of competition on my to-read shelf...


message 7: by Nicole (new)

Nicole | 115 comments I ordered books last week. Woo! (<-- attempt to get psyched up).


message 8: by Trudie (new)

Trudie (trudieb) I am formulating a sort of time travel post back to 1978 to get us in the mood - when do we start officially once the 2016 Booker is announced ?


message 9: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3166 comments Mod
Those were the days: "We're on the march we Ally's army / We're going to the Argentine / And we'll really shake 'em up / When we win the World Cup / 'Cause Scotland is the greatest football team". Sadly their campaign foundered at the group stage despite a plucky win against the eventual finalists Holland. It was also the year David Gower first played for England and Ian Botham's swing bowling was lethal. At the time most of my reading was confined to books about cricket - I read very little fiction as a teenager.


message 10: by Dan (new)

Dan Trudie, And if you want to listen to this year's Nobel Prize for Literature winner while you're writing your time travel post: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeNJj....


message 11: by Nicole (new)

Nicole | 115 comments In 1978, I was reading a lot of this

In my defense, I was seven.


message 12: by Trudie (new)

Trudie (trudieb) Dan ! Haha, how immensely thoughtful of you, and I might just do that ...


message 13: by Jibran (new)

Jibran (marbles5) | 283 comments Hugh wrote: "It was also the year David Gower first played for England and Ian Botham's swing bowling was lethal. At the time most of my reading was confined to books about cricket - I read very little fiction as a teenager. "

I can relate to that, but a couple of decades down the line. I don't remember David Gower in live action and my earliest memory of Botham is him getting out on a duck on a perfect delivery from Wasim Akram in the 1992 World Cup final. I must also not forget late Tony Greig's brilliant commentary. I was only 6/7 years of age. Literature had had to wait at least another decade.


message 14: by Louise (new)

Louise | 222 comments I was reading cardboard books in 1978 - I was 1 :-)
I've ordered A Five-Year Sentence from the library


message 15: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Pool I suspect that vintage 1978 is more praiseworthy for its pop(ular) music than for its literature? I personally think pop music has regressed since 1978 and literature has blossomed.

With 'new wave' in full flow in the UK try any of the following for enduring appeal:
THE JAM - Down in the Tube Station at Midnight
KRAFTWERK - The Model
UNDERTONES - Teenage Kicks
THE CLASH - (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais
and, of course, The Sex Pistols split up in January 1978!!


message 16: by Nicole (new)

Nicole | 115 comments I just started the Gardham (I picked up my book package at the post office this morning, in the rain -- feel my dedication!), and it's making me feel engaged and happy. Could the 1978 Booker shortlist be the answer to my reading slump?


message 17: by Dan (new)

Dan Nicole wrote: "I just started the Gardham (I picked up my book package at the post office this morning, in the rain -- feel my dedication!), and it's making me feel engaged and happy. Could the 1978 Booker shortl..."
Nicole, I think so. I found it a very engaging and quite varied shortlist.


message 18: by Sara G (new)

Sara G | 166 comments Nicole wrote: "I just started the Gardham (I picked up my book package at the post office this morning, in the rain -- feel my dedication!), and it's making me feel engaged and happy. Could the 1978 Booker shortl..."

So far I'm feeling the same way.


message 19: by Dan (new)

Dan As is often the case, I’m not sure of the most appropriate place to post this. In thinking about the 1978 shortlist and winner, I’m yet again befuddled by how to even think about comparing more complex novels—The Sea, the Sea, for example—with briefer novels focused on more straightforward plots and often with fewer characters. To differing degrees, I enjoyed A Five Year Sentence, God on the Rocks, and The Bookshop, and I think that Rubens, Gardam, and Fitzgerald all succeeded in accomplishing what they were probably trying to do. But how to compare those novels with The Sea, the Sea, which seems so different in ambition and scope? Yes, I of course realize that this issue is in no way unique to 1978, but rereading the 1978 shortlist again brought this to mind.


message 20: by Paul (last edited Oct 25, 2016 02:48AM) (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8772 comments Jonathan wrote: "I suspect that vintage 1978 is more praiseworthy for its pop(ular) music than for its literature? I personally think pop music has regressed since 1978 and literature has blossomed."

Indeed 1977-9 were the absolute peak of pop music - never quite the same before or since. Teenage Kicks was of course the late, great, John Peel's favourite ever song, and the opening line is engraved on his tombstone.


message 21: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3166 comments Mod
Paul wrote: "Indeed 1977-9 were the absolute peak of pop music - never quite the same before or since. Teenage Kicks was of course the late, great, John Peel's favourite ever song, and the opening line is engraved on his tombstone."
I think there is a degree to which this depends on one's generational perspective. I am sure those who were there would make similar claims for 1967-9, if they can remember it :)
A lot of the artier stuff that the punk ethos effectively killed off was very creative too...


message 22: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8772 comments Hugh wrote: "Paul wrote: "I think there is a degree to which this depends on one's generational perspective. ."

Generally I'd agree.

But not when it comes to Teenage Kicks. John Peel was 30 years older than me so can't be accused of the same generational bias and his word is definitive :-)

"There's nothing you could add to it or subtract from it that would improve it."

If only the 2016 Nobel Committee had been around in 1978 to judge the Booker we could be pondering on the poetry of the Undertones.


message 23: by Ang (new)

Ang | 1685 comments The Sea, The Sea is reduced to £1.99 on Kindle UK.


message 24: by Nicole (new)

Nicole | 115 comments Dan wrote: "As is often the case, I’m not sure of the most appropriate place to post this. In thinking about the 1978 shortlist and winner, I’m yet again befuddled by how to even think about comparing more com..."

I'm about 150-200 pages into The Sea the Sea, and am starting to run up against exactly this question. It was comparatively easy to rank three books of about the same length and scope/ambition, but the Murdoch already seems like an orange sitting among apples.


message 25: by Sara G (new)

Sara G | 166 comments Rumours of Rain at least has a little more meat on the bone.


message 26: by Trevor (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1842 comments Mod
Thanks to Dan, I've been in touch with someone who knows an awful lot about the Booker, and she's given me some great tidbits about 1978.

First, this was the year they doubled the prize money. Apparently there was a rumor going around that another prize was going to launch with a larger purse, so the Booker stepped up to preempt them . . . sounds similar to some of their moves a few years ago.

She also told me that that was the year that Peter Mayer arrived at Penguin, though it would be a few years before he would have what she called "his monumental effect on the Booker." I'll have to look into that a bit more, since I've never heard these stories.

Lastly, for now, it seems that Iris Murdoch only just squeezed out her win. Two judges, Clare Boylan and Derwent May, voted for The Sea, the Sea, and two, Angelan Huth and P.H. Newby, voted for another book. The Chair, Sir Alfred Ayer, cast the deciding vote.

So, my question, what book was the runner-up and almost winner that year? And why do you think that?

This may be something you can find on Google, but I will post the letter from the runner-up in which he or she tells the story (and gives some insight into the scale of this early prize ceremony).


message 27: by Dan (new)

Dan P. H. Newby? Now we're really talking ancient Booker history! I wouldn't pick either Rumours of Rain or Jake's Thing as my own runner-up, but I won't be surprised if Trevor's big reveal is from either Andre Brink or Kingsley Amis. And I hope that I'm wrong, because I much prefer The Bookshop, A Five Year Sentence, and God on the Rocks.

Trevor, thanks for the wonderful history. I hope that you'll regularly treat us to more.


message 28: by Nicole (new)

Nicole | 115 comments I haven't read either the Amis or the Brink, but right now if I had to pick a rival for Murdoch it would be A Five Year Sentence. That is one seriously affecting little book.

I look forward to seeing all the gossipy and exciting details.


message 29: by Dan (new)

Dan I found A Five Year Sentence and The Bookshop to be the most memorable of the 1978 shortlist. A Five Year Sentence made me look at some neighbors and former colleagues, wonder, and worry. Rubens certainly put a whole new spin on retirement, at least for me.


message 30: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3166 comments Mod
I am a third of the way through the Brink so far. Quite impressed so far but it is something of a period piece.


message 31: by Sara G (new)

Sara G | 166 comments Hugh wrote: "I am a third of the way through the Brink so far. Quite impressed so far but it is something of a period piece."

One of the reasons I ranked it so highly was because of how current it seems, given the U.S. election season. Hearing what a (fictional) pro-apartheid advocate thought gave me new insight into my neighbors. I waffled on if my current reading circumstances should influence my rankings so much, and if I should put The Sea, The Sea first. Finally I came to the conclusion that all my judgments are colored by "current circumstances", even if they are usually not colored as strongly.


message 32: by Trevor (last edited Nov 04, 2016 12:41PM) (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1842 comments Mod
I won't hold out any further. It's a fun little story.

Apparently, the runner up that year was Jane Gardam's God on the Rocks. She said that at the ceremony, which was tiny, the two judges who voted for her came over and told her so. Here is a transcription of her handwritten letter to Peter Straus, from May 10, 2005:

_____________________________

God on the Rocks was published in 1978 by H.H. and then by Abacus in 1981. I don’t know the print run *[I think I was paid 500] There was a very good little film made – I have the video. I also have a letter of mine telling my husband who was working in Hong Kong that the book was on the shortlist which had astonished Hamish Hamilton who were ‘thinking of re-launching me’. In fact I had not been ‘launched’ at all. I was ‘one of the unexpected successes,’ and supposed to be grateful at being told so.

The Booker in those days has was a very quiet affair. It was at Claridges, and only about five tables. My publisher made enquiries to make sure that I had not won and, assumed that I had not, went to America. Iris Murdoch won with The Sea, The Sea. She wore a brown velvet gym slip and was amiable and charming to me but not sure who I was. The sweetest part of the evening was after the announcement when Angela Huth and P.H. Newby, two of the judges, came over and told me they had voted for me and the other two for Iris. The casting vote had been given by the chairman – such a thing would never be revealed now. I was so encouraged at being told. It would have made a great difference to me had I won – but I was pleased to have got so far so fast. Up to then I had written for children and the great Norah Smallwood of O.U.P (children’s books) nearly came to Claridge’s that night but fell on the steps and had to be taken home. I met her afterwards but she took no interest and had not heard of me.

Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson has always been a friend and sent me a leather-bound copy of God On the Rocks with ‘Booker Runner-up’ stamped across it in gold. I’m sure this doesn’t happen now either!

The ceremony of the Booker has changed out of recognition now: but there is no doubt that it has kept the importance of novels going as nothing else. Sincerely Jane Gardam


message 33: by Trevor (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1842 comments Mod
It's strange to think of the Booker Prize being such a low-key affair. That was all to change in a short time, which is why Peter Mayer's arrival at Penguin is important. After arriving in 1978, he was part of Penguin's efforts in 1980 to bring out trade paperbacks (his idea, as well) of all of the Booker shortlisted novels, seven that year.

They only managed to negotiate to print five of the seven, but these got out to the public with straplines that when like this: "Penguin Books in association with [publisher] is proud to publish this special early edition to coincide with the nomination for the Booker McConnell Prize." Apparently, this was the first promotion leading up to the prize itself, so the public got involved. The next year they began televising the ceremony.

Fascinating stuff, and I'd again like to thank Dan for helping me get in touch with the Morgan Library and Museum. It sounds like they'll have tidbits to offer for many of the years to come!


message 34: by Ang (new)

Ang | 1685 comments Thanks, Trevor, I enjoyed those tidbits.


message 35: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3166 comments Mod
Yes, thanks Trevor - that was intriguing and entertaining. I have just finished Rumours of Rain and found it very impressive, and will start God on the Rocks next.


message 36: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3166 comments Mod
Enjoyed God on the Rocks a lot - I ranked it just below Rumours of Rain but there is really no fair way to compare them, since they are so different in mood, tone and subject matter. Certainly very impressive for a first proper novel.
I have also just ordered a second-hand copy of a Five Year Sentence, so that will just leave the Kingsley Amis to complete the set. If I didn't have such a long to-read list I might consider re-reading The Sea, The Sea, but I can't see that happening any time soon.


message 37: by Nicole (new)

Nicole | 115 comments I waffled for a long while, and then caved and put The Sea, The Sea above A Five Year Sentence, effectively letting scope and ambition and even sheer length outweigh other factors because I had no other way of deciding between them. Also the recency effect: I find it really matters what order you read things in.

I guess when you get right down to it, what matters is that The Sea, The Sea is much better than I remembered, and that Rubens is a new and fantastic author for me.

I just have the Brink and the Amis left; I need to run them down at the library.


message 38: by Dan (new)

Dan Nicole wrote: "The Sea, The Sea is much better than I remembered"

I'm having the same experience with The Sea, The Sea: it's far more absorbing on rereading it now than it was when I first read it four or five years ago. This makes me wonder about rereading, or at least rereading Murdoch. I usually choose to reread only those novels that I enjoyed on first readings. But perhaps rereading others that were less enjoyable on first reading might lead to greater appreciation.


message 39: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Pool The Bookshop is my second 1978 Booker read, and has a number of similarities with my other 1978 read, God on the Rocks.
Both are stories set around small English seaside towns, defined by the parochial outlook within local communities.
I'm sure the other Booker 1978 candidates will extend the scope of subject matter, but presently I can fully appreciate the decision by Man Booker in recent years, to widen the qualification criteria and thereby get a more diverse range of writing styles.

Having said that, I liked the Bookshop very much. I'm delighted to be focusing on 1978 and Booker through Mookse and reading Penelope Fitzgerald is something I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

The Bookshop seems too short for a major literary prize, and while I appreciate quality over quantity, this is a book to read in a single day. I just don’t know if this is enough.

Having made my observation about Booker's remit, and questioning to what extent small English/British communities will appeal to a geographically more diverse readership, I am conscious that His Bloody Project, from 2016, falls into this mould. And what a cracking, contemporary book that is (from an innovative writing style perspective)


message 40: by Dan (new)

Dan I've recently read The Bookshop, A Five Year Sentence, and Jake's Thing, reread The Sea, The Sea, and I'm now reading Rumours of Rain. Marvelous shortlist. And with Rumours of Rain, I continue to have apples and oranges problems. A Five Year Sentence may be my overall favorite, but I will probably end up ranking The Sea, The Sea (wonderful on second reading) and Rumours of Rain higher because of their complexity.

The 2009 shortlist excepted, I do wonder if there's an implicit bias against including more than one or two long, long novels on the Booker shortlists. Perhaps sometime we can convince Trevor to try to engage the Morgan Library and Museum Booker expert on how the panels make their decisions and any criteria they are given, even knowing that the make-up and tenor of the panels differ from year to year. (I'm reminded here of Edward St. Aubyn's Lost for Words: if I remember the plot correctly, a cookbook wins it all!)


message 41: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3166 comments Mod
I finished a Five Year Sentence yesterday, and although I liked it and found it quite original and expect it to be memorable, I can't quite squeeze it into my top four because on balance I prefer Fitzgerald and Gardam. I have not yet read the Amis but from what I know about his work and what others have said I suspect I would have rated it sixth anyway. I did feel that the Gardam, Fitzgerald and Rubens are all very English and by now all period pieces - the judges obviously enjoyed observational humour.


message 42: by Nicole (new)

Nicole | 115 comments Hugh wrote: "the judges obviously enjoyed observational humour"

Actually, this could go some way toward explaining the Amis as well, though I still think that in terms of deeper issues and ambition, the Gardam and the Rubens are much more substantial books.


message 43: by Ang (new)

Ang | 1685 comments I have had a hard time concentrating on fiction since the election. My main source of reading these days has been the NY Times. To avoid sinking into complete depression, I am delving back into this shortlist with gusto (I hope).


message 44: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Pool I've finished the 1978 six and what a pleasure this was.
I agree with Hugh that the three books by Gardham, Fitzgerald and Rubens have a similar, English, feel to them. They are very short books, and while that offers the reader more time to dwell on the messages, and individual words and sentences of wisdom, I remain unconvinced that such short books can justifiably claim to be great literature, whilst recognising that well written short stories provide an excellent resting period between the longer, and more complicated books on my TBR list.
If Hugh's trio are a homogeneous mini group, then I also vouch that the Amis and Murdoch duo have huge similarities; they are also "English" through and through.
In part it is for this reason that my preferred choice for 1978 is Andre Brink's Rumours of Rain. The subject matter is much more serious, and its international reach impressed me.

In 1978 the Booker Prize was British and Commonwealth. The decision to extend the world reach of Booker in recent years was, I now think, a good one.


message 45: by Ang (new)

Ang | 1685 comments The similarity I spotted was "aging disgracefully" in The Sea, The Sea and A Five-Year Sentence and Jake's Thing (which I haven't read, so I'm guessing it's fits). It was a relief to read God on the Rocks which featured much younger characters. I don't mind reading about people struggling with retirement, but surprised to see it so concentrated in a single shortlist.


message 46: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Pool Trevor wrote: "I won't hold out any further. It's a fun little story.

Apparently, the runner up that year was Jane Gardam's God on the Rocks. She said that at the ceremony, which was tiny, the two judges who vot..."


On the subject of Booker politics and the behind-the-scenes machinations, an interesting leading article appeared in the FT Arts section on November 4th (2016) just after the 2016 winner was announced.
Various acerbic comments from the short listed contenders are quoted from years including 1996, 1979 and 1987.
I hope the link appears correctly (it has taken me a while to get the correct syntax)

https://www.ft.com/content/89f8d056-a109-11e6-86d5-4e36b35c3550


message 47: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8772 comments Interesting story although link doesn't work on a click although one can cut and paste - think you need: this


message 48: by Dan (new)

Dan Unfortunately, I can't breach the FT firewall. I would like to read the article, although not enough to subscribe to the FT.


message 49: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8772 comments Yes good article as it is, 275 pounds is a little steep to read it! There are ways round it e.g. cached searches on Google, and I think FT also allows limited access (a few articles a month) for free registration.


message 50: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Pool The article was written by Jonathan Derbyshire and is titled "The politics of literary prize-giving.
It's full of catty comments including AL Kennedy, in her capacity as one of the judges in 1996, declaring that the Booker is all about
"who knows who, who's sleeping with who, who's selling drugs to who, who's married to who, whose turn it is". Sounds like the world of literary judging panels is rather racy!!!!!


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