I was very interested to see who made the Man Booker Longlist published on July 25th because it’s the first year that American novelists could enter the ring. There had been much concern that the prize would be be hijacked by the American literary giants and leave British, Irish and Commonwealth authors for dust. A quick perusal of the list revealed that Britain has the strongest representation with six authors, including the Indian born Neel Mukherjee, with one Australian(Richard Flanagan) and the very brilliant Irish author Niall Williams who has published no fewer than nine novels.
Both Ireland and America can lay claim to Joseph O’Neill who is a hotly tipped contender for this year’s prize with his upcoming novel “The Dog,”published in September. When I read “Netherland” back in 2008 I was blown away by this writer who is incapable of writing a boring sentence and by the story of family, identity and politics cleverly crafted by O’Neill. When I saw his handsome face beaming from a page in Vogue and read the accompanying piece about his apartment in the Chelsea hotel and his very glamourous lifestyle it is safe to say reader that I was smitten. I brought his name to the attention of the literary committee of Listowel Writer’s Week that year to have it included in the contenders for the Kerry Group Fiction Prize. There was some debate on whether he was Irish and therefore eligible to be considered.
As a great lover of Fiction and no stranger to embellishment and with sheer brass neck I solved all dispute by declaring him to be a second cousin from a very tangled West Cork ancestry. The debate was solved and Joseph O’Neill flew to Ireland that year and collected the Kerry Group Fiction Prize for “Netherland.”
The Listowel Arms was rocking that night with opening night festival celebrations and like all great liars I trawled the bar area in search of the great Joseph so I could fill him in on our fake ancestral lineage. Unfortunately one of the committee was with him and with great Kerry theatricality introduced Joseph to his cousin Anne.
I was in an advanced state of exhaustion at that stage having had an extremely late night the previous night with a friend from London who had travelled to Listowel for the festival and like myself had a great ability to quaff vino and avoid bed.(Marella, you know who you are)
The great novelist ran with the plot, greeted me with a familial hug and even asked about the mythical Cork uncle. At that point a crowd had gathered, buoyed by the emotional story of the long lost cousin’s meeting. With the usual mass hysteria we were declared to be the image of each other, very alike around the eyes, another lady declared that we were like sister and brother. On the night in question my eyes were afflicted with an exhaustive stare which bore no resemblance to the novelist’s intelligent peepers.We had a drink outside with a few of my crew, a photo was taken, literature was discussed, I might even have sung Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel” really badly for him. It was a family affair. O’Neill for the Booker 2014 !