Golden Booker win brings new readers to The English Patient

News last weekend that Michael Ondaatje’s 1992 modern classic The English Patient won the Golden Booker Prize has resulted in a global spike in sales and renewed interest in the author’s oeuvre.

My Bookshop still has several copies of the 2004 Bloomsbury edition in stock. And we will be ordering plenty of the new edition (pictured above) with the Golden Booker winner sticker on the front. Stay tuned for its arrival date.

The Golden Booker – announced in London last Saturday and voted for by the public – is a one-off award that commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Man Booker prize. A shortlist of five novels – each from the prize’s five decades – was selected by a panel of judges. Readers around the world were then invited to vote on their favourite of the five.

Announcing Ondaatje’s win Baroness Helena Kennedy, chair of the Booker Prize Foundation, described The English Patient as “a compelling work of fiction — both poetic and philosophical’’.

The shortlist for the Golden Man Booker is:

1970s: In a Free State (1971) by V.S. Naipaul

1980s: Moon Tiger (1987) by Penelope Lively

1990s: The English Patient (1992) by Michael Ondaatje

2000s: Wolf Hall (2009) by Hilary Mantel

2010s: Lincoln in the Bardo (2017) by George Saunders

“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,’’ said Baroness Kennedy. (If you would like to order any of the shortlist, click here.)

The English Patient was one of 1992’s most popular novels. The story follows the lives of four characters brought together during World War II, told through the morphine-affected memories of a severely burned patient.

The 1997 film adaptation starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Ralph Fiennes won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and brought new audiences to the book.

Since May when Ondaatje’s latest novel, Warlight, arrived in store, we have noticed renewed interest in his work. No doubt last weekend’s Golden Man Booker win will further enhance his reputation, and attract a new generation of readers to his books.

(My Bookshop has sold many copies of Warlight since its May release, and it is also the July Book for the eight book clubs we run through our store. If you would like to buy or reserve a copy, click here.)

Founded in 1969, the Man Booker prize was originally open to British, Irish and Commonwealth writers. Its eligibility rules  expanded in 2014 to all English-language novelists.

Ondaatje was born in Sri Lanka in 1943, moved to England in the early 1950s and came to Canada in 1962. Upon accepting his award, the writer recalled how the book came about. “It began with a small night conversation between a burned patient and a nurse. I did not know at first where it was taking place, or who the two characters were. I thought it might be a brief novella – all dialogue, European-style, big type.”

The “novella” became a 300-plus page work of art, described by The Financial Times at the time of its publication as “a masterpiece”.  Meanwhile the Sunday Times said: “All the allure of early twentieth-century desert exploration is contained in Ondaatje's beautiful, spare narrative . A wise and graceful book about history itself, both the events that are its raw material and the human values that shape it.’’

In an interview with The Guardian this week, Ondaatje expressed his delight that the book was being rediscovered once again via the Golden Booker award.

“It already had a second afterlife with the film, right? And that was a bolt of lightning that I wasn’t expecting. And then this – suddenly redoing the whole thing again. Another horse race, you know?”

“Not for a second do I believe this is the best book on the list, especially when it is placed beside a work by VS Naipaul, one of the masters of our time, or a major work like Wolf Hall,” he said, adding: “I suspect and know more than anyone that perhaps The English Patient is still cloudy, with errors in pacing.”

The English Patient was writer Kamila Shamsie’s pick of the 1990s winners.  “It moves seamlessly between the epic and the intimate,” she said. “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 ... It’s intricately and rewardingly structured, beautifullywritten, with great humanity written into every page.”

If you would like to buy a copy of The English Patient or contact us to put one aside, click here.

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