Hype fails to sway the patrons of Hay John Ezard, arts correspondent
Saturday June 5, 2004
The GuardianThe women-only Orange prize for fiction set out yesterday to discover the British public's most cherished contemporary novels - and found that 58% were by men.
But organisers said this margin was smaller than it would have been before the prize was founded to promote writing by women eight years ago.
Eight out of 50 titles chosen for an "essential bookshelf" of modern works have figured on Orange award shortlists.
They are Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters; Fred and Edie, by Jill Dawson; Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels; Hotel World, by Ali Smith; The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver; Unless, by Carol Shields; White Teeth, by Zadie Smith; and Margaret Atwood's Booker prize-winning The Blind Assassin. None won the Orange award, but they did better in the poll than any of the volumes that did.
Kate Mosse, the prize's organiser and founder, said the results showed that the prize was doing its job.
The books were nominated by a sample of 500 people attending the first week of the Guardian Hay festival, which ends tomorrow.
This discerning public mostly picked books which it discovered as hardbacks rather than as spin-offs from films or television.
Nort was it seduced by hype for recent ephemeral bestsellers. Two of the oldest books on the list, Doris Lessing's Golden Notebook and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, were published respectively in 1962 and 1969. Almost all the titles are more than three years old and have had time to ripen into favourites. They also include Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children of 1981.
This pattern is in contrast to last year's BBC Big Read. Almost all the top choices then, Tolkien, Harry Potter, Douglas Adams, Louis de Bernieres, had momentum from TV or cinema.
The top 50 essential contemporary reads
(As nominated by a sample of 500 people attending the Guardian Hay festival. In alphabetical order)
A Prayer for
Meany by John Irving