Well there we all were, Tuesday night, in the Flocculater’s Arms, following the Booker prize reports, reminding ourselves once again that a country where the pubs will tune the TVs to coverage of a literary prize is worth all the damp cardboard sandwiches posing as a doner kebab – I mean, would it kill you to sprinkle a little coriander on it? – in the world.

Personally I was barracking on national grounds, for either Kate Grenville (Secret River) or Maria Hyland (Carry me Down), even though the latter author is, from personal experience, so insanely competitive as to render a pub trivia competition a killing zone, and the former book is, though exquisitely written, a left-liberal fantasy that attributes to a 19th century white convict-settler views that wouldn’t be out of place in the front bar of the Melbourne Writers Festival after a “Morag Fraser in conversation with Robert Manne about Julian Burnside” session (Malthouse – the hot tub, 4pm), when the BBC News 24 presenter announced that Hyland was the long-shot “Irish” candidate.

The what? Goddammit. Carry Me Down is set in Ireland and is, as they say, a non-autobiographical story of a precocious child being raised by a lunatic, written by a one-time precocious child who was raised by a lunatic, but the author grew up in Australia and the sensibility is pure Australian – a sort of happy-go-lucky insouciance which is neither the Irish bipolar “it’s all fecked” view of events or the British reserved “ahhhh – madness” approach.

Consulting a few websites reveals that for Booker purposes she had suddenly become of the blarney.

To which, as Whoopi Goldberg once said of Tiger Woods’s sudden Afro-American/Thai/Cherokee heritage, “dang, every time he wins he gets a quarter less black!”. Clearly the publishers thought that emphasising the Oirishry would give a bit of extra branding in a field where Grenville’s big novel had cornered the market in antipodeanism – even though Hyland’s gritty family drama seems to me a better direction than inner-city novelists using cod epics to heal our national et cetera.

As it turned out, an ex-London now Manhattan resident won, for writing about the tensions of globalisation in a Hindu Indian village she occasionally visits.

More power to your writing arm Maria, if you’re out there. Please don’t take up archery or any form of projectile-based sports.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW