The thrice-denied Julian Barnes has been lauded in the press for finally winning the Man Booker prize with his The Sense of an Ending.
The Guardian warmly welcomed the decision. Claire Armistead said: "To those who believe the Booker has gone downmarket in its domestic and international incarnations, one can only point to the fact that 2011 will go down as the year of Philip Roth and Julian Barnes."
The Daily Mail said the judgement showed the panel appeared to be "siding with the traditionalists", lauding the "highbrow" novel as a "fascinating sketch of an unglamorous and rarely-mined vein of middle-class life".
The Times also felt the judges made the right decision. Literary editor Erica Wagner said: "In its deepest core [it's] a complex meditation on the nature of knowledge and the nature of loss." However, she added she felt it had been a "disappointing" year. She said: "I'd be willing to bet that most of the shortlisted novels, alas, won't stay the course—that course being the next couple of hundred years. But I could be wrong. That's the way it works."
This year's shortlist has been dominated by debate about whether the prize has moved too downmarket. In an occasionally combative speech, the judges' chair, Dame Stella Rimington, said: "We were not only talking about readability. We were talking about readability and quality. We were always looking at quality overall. I never had much experience of this prize before so I didn’t know what vehement discussion there was going to be."
She warmly praised Barnes' novel. "Although short, it’s incredibly concentrated and crammed into this very short space is a great deal which you don’t get out of a first reading," she said.
Unsurprisingly, Barnes himself backed the judges' decision. He said: "I would like to thank the judges—who I won't hear a word against—for their wisdom, and the sponsors for their cheque." In his acceptance speech, he also spoke of the changes facing the publishing industry. He said: "Those of you who have seen my book, whatever you think of its contents, will probably agree it is a beautiful object. And if the physical book, as we've come to call it, is to resist the challenge of the e-book, it has to look like something worth buying, worth keeping."
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, judge and literary editor Gaby Wood defended the shortlist as celebrating the "voice throwing or genre-bending". She said: "There is something magnificent about this: that books which in another year would be classed as too odd or offbeat or even experimental have been derided as too commercial. Readers, we have slipped you some truly wonderful, surprising stuff in the inadvertent guise of the mass market."
Only the Independent struck a more critical note. Deputy literary editor Arifa Akbar said the novel was "superb" but felt the award was celebrating "the right author in the wrong year". She said: "By choosing the only literary heavyweight on the shortlist . . . the panel's decision rung a false note, or perhaps a chastened one."