By A Staff Writer
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (Bloomsbury) has been crowned the best work of fiction from the last five decades of the Man Booker Prize. The Golden Man Booker winner was revealed at the closing event of the Man Booker 50 Festival in Royal Festival Hall at Southbank Centre on July 8.
The winner of this special one-off award for the Man Booker Prize’s 50th anniversary celebrations was chosen by the public. All 51 previous winners were considered by a panel of five specially appointed judges, each of whom was asked to read the winning novels from one decade of the prize’s history, before the books faced a month-long public vote on the Man Booker website.
The judges were: Robert McCrum, who chose In a Free State by V. S. Naipaul for the 1970s;Lemn Sissay, who chose Moon Tigerby Penelope Lively for the 1980s; Kamila Shamsie, who chose The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje for the 1990s;Simon Mayo, who chose Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel for the noughties; and Hollie McNish, who chose Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders for the 2010s.
At Golden Man Booker Live, judge Kamila Shamsie discussed why she had chosen The English Patient as her winner of the 1990s, before an extract of the book was performed by actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Michael Ondaatje was presented with his golden trophy.
Kamila Shamsie said: ‘The English Patient is that rare novel which gets under your skin and insists you return to it time and again, always yielding a new surprise or delight. It moves seamlessly between the epic and the intimate –one moment you’re in looking at the vast sweep of the desert and the next moment watching a nurse place a piece of plum in a patient’s mouth. That movement is mirrored in the way your thoughts, while reading it, move between large themes –war, loyalty, love –to tiny shifts in the relationships between characters. It’s intricately (and rewardingly) structured, beautifully written, with great humanity written into every page. Ondaatje’s imagination acknowledges no borders as it moves between Cairo, Italy, India, England, Canada –and between deserts and villas and bomb craters. And through all this, he makes you fall in love with his characters, live their joys and their sorrows. Few novels really deserve the praise: transformative. This one does.’
The English Patient opens in an abandoned Italian villa at the end of the Second World War where Hana, a nurse, tends to her sole remaining patient. Rescued from a burning plane, the anonymous
Englishman is damaged beyond recognition and haunted by painful memories. The only clue Hana has to unlocking his past is the one thing he clung on to through the fire –a copy of The Histories by Herodotus, covered with hand-written notes detailing a tragic love affair.
Michael Ondaatje is one of the world’s foremost writers, whose work has influenced an entire generation of writers and readers. Although he is best known as a novelist, Ondaatje’s work also encompasses poetry, memoir, and film, and reveals a passion for defying conventional form. He is one of only two authors whose work has won the Booker Prize and an Oscar, and his latest novel, Warlight, has just been published by Jonathan Cape.
Baroness Helena Kennedy, Chair of the Booker Prize Foundation, said: “The English Patient is a compelling work of fiction–both poetic and philosophical –and is a worthy winner of the Golden Man Booker. As we celebrate the prize’s 50th anniversary, it’s a testament to the impact and legacy of the Man Booker Prize that all of the winning books are still in print. I’m confident that this special book, chosen by the public, will continue to stand the test of time and delight new readers for many more years to come.”
The 50th anniversary of the prize is being magnified globally with Man Booker author events at international literary festivals across the world, and major festivals in the UK, including Hay Festival, Cheltenham Literature Festival and Edinburgh International Book Festival amongst others. The anniversary will be supported through video, livestream and podcasts, alongside an online exhibition on the Man Booker website including archive material on the prize from the British Library and Oxford Brookes University.