The world of literary prizes is such a vexed and vexatious one, and having rarely been listed for any myself, I may have a jaundiced view of their value. The Nobel is, due to its sheer pecuniary value, supposedly the Big One, the Everest of achievement and the Moby Dick that has certain Booker winners checking their mobiles every year to see if they have won.

The old Stock Exchange Building, home of the Swedish Academy in Stockholm.

But does any reader pick a novel because its author has won the Nobel? The old saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee so often comes to mind that those of us who love reading are often grateful to prizes for making clear what or who is largely tedious and unreadable.

Let us not forget that the Nobel rewarded Bob Dylan, who, though a revered singer-songwriter, is literature only to the wilder followers of Professor Christopher Ricks.

What this absurd scandal – involving not a judge but the husband of a judge – obscures is that, although there are outstanding novelists, from Margaret Atwood to Philip Pullman, there is no great genius of literature currently writing in English. Not one.

I well remember the gloom that would descend on the board of the Society of Authors when, every year, we had to put forward a British author for consideration and could only come up with Harold Pinter.


The problem with all big prizes is that they lack definition. What does "best" mean? Does it mean, as Jane Austen wrote in Northanger Abbey, a novel "in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language"?

Or does it mean a novel which is all about fine prose but which dispenses with character, plot or even deep insight into the human condition? Or perhaps, indeed, a book in which wit and humour are wholly absent?

All of us have encountered prize-winning novels like these, and all too often. Usually, what the Nobel Prize seems to award above all is the possession of a penis. Perhaps that is why it is the men who search every year to see whether they have won one.

Amanda Craig's latest novel, The Lie of the Land, is published by Abacus. Telegraph, London

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