Yesterday our book club met to discuss our latest selection, The Gathering, which was a Man Booker Prize Winner. For the first time, the entire club hated the book, and so the discussion centered on why such a work wins awards.
Having sat on an award jury (the P.K. Dick Award), I know that sometimes the winner is a default choice. If there are five books on the short list, and half the jury loves books 2 & 3 while the other half loves books 1 & 4, Book 5 will end up being the winner. Still, in the case of this novel, that's hardly enough explanation.
I usually avoid being negative in public (as on this blog) about other authors' work, but this book confounds me. I don't think, in the speculative fiction genre, that the author would have gotten away with it. The narrative is so tortured, and the story and setting so unrelentingly dark and vicious, that there needed to be a big, big inciting incident to make it all come together. And in the end, it turned out to be just another Irish dysfunctional family story, with a case of sexual abuse at its center. The book felt like one giant cliche.
So what are the judges for literary awards looking for? Character development, check. Setting, check (I guess). Plot, no check. Inner meaning, no check. Theme? You got me. I have no idea.
Maybe I should try harder to remember that readers have diverse tastes just as listeners to music do. My husband loves progressive jazz, while I like classical music. His jazz actually grates on my nerves, and makes me want to go into another room. So I suppose there are readers out there for whom The Gathering is just their cup of tea (to use another cliche). But I suspect that more copies of this book are sold because it won the Booker than because of a buzz among readers about what a great read it is!
I need to go read some Connie Willis to cleanse my literary palate!