More culture, and I know the subs req is a drag.. but the Irish Times has John Banville’s recollection of the day.. Booker day, and “of getting through it without anaesthetising oneself with enormous, near-fatal injections of alcohol. Last time I was shortlisted, I was tipsy by 10 in the morning – thanks to free champagne on the morning flight from Dublin, for in those days Aer Lingus was still an airline – and footless by four in the afternoon.”I’ll extract what I can.. from his wonderful account –
Somehow we all survive until 10pm, when the BBC coverage of the event begins. Huge television screens around the hall present us with the spectacle of ourselves, still rictussed and death-pale, trying to look unconcerned and hiding the palsied trembling of our hands. For a brief moment sanity breaks through, like a ray of wan sunlight over a surging sea, and the question presents itself: what on earth am I doing here, in this absurd outfit, sweating and fretting over a bloody prize? Where now is the poise, the concentration, the infinitely subtle intent which produced the book in the first place? Yesterday I was some sort of grown-up, tonight I am a child of impoverished parents hankering after that expensive, shiny red bicycle that Santa might just bring this year. I finger in my pocket the dog-eared envelope on which I have written out, in childishly big letters, the names of those whom I fear I might forget to acknowledge should I turn out to be the . . . no, I must not even form the thought. I catch myself on the television screen, a simpering, shiny-faced shop-window manikin.
AT LAST THE chairman of the judges rises to announce the winner of the Man Booker Prize, 2005. One has a sense of incipient falling. This is ridiculous. I am an artist, none of this matters. What’s 52-and-a-half grand? Oh, about €70,000, a small voice in my head informs me, and then cackles tauntingly. I think of the printer standing in some distant factory, his finger hovering over the button marked reprint. I recall, with blithe inconsequence, a moment on a street corner in Paris long ago when I . . .
My name is announced, and the table erupts in cheers.
Immediately there come to my mind those lines from Philip Larkin’s poem The Whitsun Weddings, about the brides’ seamy-foreheaded fathers who had never known “Success so huge and wholly farcical . . .”
I wade through an acre of cloying, mud-like carpet, climb the steps, receive my prize, flash a ghastly grin for the photographer, make my little speech, and stumble back to my table, which is still swaying in euphoria.
What I feel most strongly is a spreading sense of relief at the thought that I shall never again have to worry about this prize; I shall be able to enjoy early autumns again; I shall never have to watch the anguished look in my publisher’s face when the judges yet again pass over my latest book with wordless disdain; I shall be able to write in peace and calm through another September; for I have been, at last, Bookered.