If, like me, you watched the Man Booker Prize winner’s announcement on BBC News tonight, I wouldn’t blame you if you entirely missed the name of who won the award for 2014. The channel’s sound issues were so bad, coupled with a barely competent presenter, that judging committee head AC Grayling couldn’t be heard, and we didn’t even know who the prize had been given to until we saw Flanagan head towards the stage. It wasn’t the Beeb’s best night, but I doubt the Australian author Flanagan minded much. A £50,00 cheque helped a lot, I imagine.
While generally considered to be one of the safer choices from this year’s shortlist, which featured American writers for the first time, Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North is also classic Man Booker material – a historical tale of tragedy, determination and a hint of romance, centred on a prisoner of war forced to work on what became known as the Death Railway between Thailand and Burma. His sixth novel, Flanagan was inspired by his father, who worked on the railway and tragically died the day he finished writing the book. He is the 3rd Australian novelist to win the Man Booker Prize, after Peter Carey and Thomas Keneally. While not the bookie’s favourite (many had Neel Mukherjee down as the eventual winner), Flanagan has proven popular with critics and readers alike, many more of whom will undoubtedly flock to this novel after tonight’ announcement.