Uncategorized | January 29, 2004

The British Whitbread Awards were announced yesterday. This year’s winner, of both the Novel section and the Book of the Year award, is Mark Haddon’s, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Here’s a link to a New York Times Article .

As I was reading the above article, I felt a little uneasy and also, a bit like a snob. Mark Haddon won the $45,000 prize for a novel that the prize committee said appeals to both adults and children. Mark Haddon has written many children’s books (18) before publishing this novel (though apparently he’s attempted adult novels several times before) and I wonder how it might feel, to have your first “adult” novel called, as the Independent did: “probably a classic to be passed on to the children of the next generation.” Probably? Children? What about adults? I wondered if Mark Haddon feels this way. Does connecting an adult novel to children diminish our regard of the work as “serious”?

Then, after I thought about this for a second, I began to recall all the novels I’ve loved after recent readings that are “passed on to the children of the next generation,” or that should be. J.D. Salinger, who I’m teaching in one of my Creative Writing classes, is a writer often read by “children” or at least by adolescents. Another is Richard Hughes. The far-too-often-neglected Welsh novelist wrote many children’s books and his tremendous, stunning novel, High Wind in Jamaica was released in an illustrated “juvenile” version called The Innocent Voyage and could (though it is one of the more powerful and complex novels I’ve read in years) be considered a children’s book.

Of course there’s the other hand: Henry James, Virginia Woolf, Joyce, writers I love who might not fit the criteria of the Whitbread (more information on the award can be found on the official website): “well-written, enjoyable books that they would strongly recommend anyone to read.” But then again I feel like a snob. Why not? I’m currently reading the second volume in Richard Hughes’s work, “The Human Predicament” (what could be more “serious”?) entitled The Wooden Shepherdess and I feel, perhaps because it doesn’t bear quite the canonical weight of James, Woolf or Joyce, that it is a novel that everyone should read.

At any rate, the prize is doing its work: I’ve wanted to read this novel and certainly will now, which is one of the goals of literary prizes.