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Man Booker winner 'exciting, brilliantly written'

25 October 2004

This week's Man Booker Prize winner has continued the honourable tradition of overturning expectations of who would win, even though David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas was the hottest favourite ever according to the bookmakers' odds. Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty was the first gay novel to win the Prize. The Poet Laureate Andrew MotionEnglish poet, novelist and biographer; Poet Laureate of United Kingdom from 1999 to 2009; during his laureateship founded the Poetry Archive, an online resource of poems and audio recordings of poets reading their own work said he 'can't think of anyone who writes better line by line.'

Alan Hollinghurst, a gracious winner, said he would be grateful for the jury's decision for the rest of his life. 'However they reached it I can't imagine. It's very amazing to me that the long, solitary process of writing a novel should lead to a moment like this.'

Chris Smith, the Chair of the Judges, said: 'This was an incredibly difficult and close decision. It has resulted in a winning novel that is exciting, brilliantly written and gets deep under the skin of the Thatcherite 80s. The search for love, sex and beauty is rarely this exquisitely done.' The judges took over two hours to reach a decision and only did so when, after five rounds of voting, Chris Smith (consummate politician that he is) suggested that the only judge voting for Colm Toibin's The Master should transfer his vote to his second choice.

But the judging process had been marked (and enlivened) by individual judges' grumbles about the low quality of many of the 132 novels they considered. One judge, Tibor Fischer, said that: 'some of the entries were so execrable I reckon they must have been submitted as a joke'.

Perhaps the British book world and the literary establishment should be grateful for the Booker, which is frequently controversial but can be guaranteed to attract attention. America's National Book Awards have just caused controversy because the five nominees are little-known novels by female New Yorkers, most of which have to date sold only a few hundred copies. The Awards are not widely publicised and bookshops are not geared up to sell the winner. Cuttingly, Larry Kirschbaum, the chairman of the admittedly commercially-oriented Time Warner Book Group, said: 'We are completely closing ourselves off from the culture at large... we are supporting our demise.'

With considerable press coverage and two TV stations televising the awards ceremony, popular interest in the Man Booker has never been greater. This interest stretches around the world and can only be good for books. Next year's inaugural International Man Booker Prize should be an interesting breakthrough.