Posted by: paultovell | September 10, 2009

The Booker Prize shortlist party

The Orangery

The Orangery

So, this wasn’t where the shortlist got announced (the media had already snatched that in the afternoon), nor the place for a debate about literature.  It was just what it said on the tin- a party to celebrate the shortlist, with a few crates of champagne thrown in.  And pretty good it was too.  In fact, it was hard to move inside the Orangery at Kensington Gardens (a little building conjured up by King William and Queen Mary from the opulence of the seventeenth century) – but the evening was so warm we spilled out into the ornate gardens instead, and watched the parakeets.  Slightly surreal, I must admit.

Inside for books and champagne

Inside for books and champagne

Later James Naughtie, Chair of the Judges, made a short speech about the shortlist, which he was careful to name and describe in alphabetical order – reflecting his claim that there was no single standout book amongst the shortlist and that all were as good – and as likely to win – as each other.   He mentioned the commitment of the judges to read 132 books, then 13 of them again, then 6 of them for a third time.  Impressive, I agree.  Especially if you get three duffers in a row.  He pondered why there was no book on the shortlist about the current state of the world; no great contemporary book of the year.  I guess escapism sells, Mr Naughtie.  The biggest laughs came when he was summarising the year’s entries – some very good books, and some outrageously bad ones… from some outrageously famous writers.  There was also an admission that there was some very bad sex as well, although in that respect, as the chair of judges said, “maybe art imitates life…”

The speech

The speech

Following some more author-spotting (like birdwatching only harder, especially when they forsake name badges and opt for anonymity) and general mingling with sponsors, editors, banks, library reading groups, more sponsors, and honeyed lamb on rosemary sticks, we were off back up to our provincial outpost after an evening of excitement in the big city.  I suspected we didn’t fit into the London “way of things” too well anyway; we got told off at Queensway tube station for not squeezing into the lift economically enough.

For the shortlist, see



  1. But we had – many of us – read many of the books! You’re right – it was rather surreal. I travelled up from what seemed to have become an eternally grey Devon and emerged at Waterloo blinking into the sunlight. Such is the power of the Most Famous Literary prize in the English Speaking World.

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