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13.10.11 | Benedicte Page, Graeme Neill and Charlotte Williams
Ion Trewin, administrator of the Man Booker Prize, has hit back at the new Literature Prize over claims by its advisory board that the Man Booker no longer offers a selection of novels "unsurpassed in their quality and ambition".
In its launch announcement, the board claimed: "For many years this brief was fulfilled by the Booker (latterly the Man Booker) Prize. But as numerous statements by that prize's administrator and this year's judges illustrate, it now prioritises a notion of 'readability' over artistic achievement."
Trewin said the idea that he or the prize preferred readability over artistic achievement was "tosh", adding: "I think I have gone on record in the past as saying that I believe in literary excellence and readability—the two should go hand in hand."
Trewin said he went along with a statement made by Booker Prize Foundation chairman Jonathan Taylor in response to the development: "Since 1969 the prize has encouraged the reading of literary fiction of the highest quality and that continues to be its objective today. We welcome any credible prize which also supports the reading of quality fiction."
The new prize has become a talking point at Frankfurt. Faber publishing director Lee Brackstone welcomed the new prize from the Fair halls. He said: "The Booker shouldn't feel threatened by another prize that rewards a literary novel. It does dominate but it would be stupid to say there hasn't been a lot of talk among publishers about the selection and that they haven't been feeling disaffected. There should be something that rewards literary merit and the Booker has slipped."
But one publishing m.d., whose novels have been shortlisted for the Booker, said that it was unfair to attack it. "The Booker judges pick the books they generally love and it's a reflection of their own tastes. I don't think they are being wilful and choosing to pick books that will piss off the literary establishment," he said.