London: Sri Lanka-born Canadian literary icon Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient has won the special one-off Golden Man Booker Prize to mark the 50th anniversary of the prestigious literary award here.
The English Patient is a tale of love and conflict during World War II.
The 74-year-old author beat the Man Booker Prize’s previous 51 winners including Indian-origin VS Naipaul for his 1971 winner In a Free State; Salman Rushdie for Midnight’s Children (1981), Arundhati Roy for The God of Small Things (1997); Kiran Desai for The Inheritance of Loss (2006); and Aravind Adiga for The White Tiger (2008).
“Not for a second do I believe this is the best book on the list – or any other list that could have been put together of Booker novels,” Ondaatje said at the awards ceremony at London’s Southbank.
He said he suspected the 1996 Oscar-winning adaptation of his novel, starring Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche and Kristen Scott Thomas, probably had something to do with the result of the public vote.
Previously, The English Patient had shared the 1992 Booker Prize with Barry Unsworth’s 18th century slave tale Sacred Hunger.
All 51 previous Booker winners were considered by a panel of judges, who whittled them down to one from each decade. The public then voted on their ultimate favourite and settled on Ondaatje’s war-time romance.
Baroness Helena Kennedy, Chair of the Booker Prize Foundation, added: “It is a compelling work of fiction – both poetic and philosophical – and is a worthy winner of the Golden Man Booker.”
The 50th anniversary of the prize is being magnified globally with Man Booker author events at international literary festivals across the world.
In 2008, the Booker Prize held a similar competition for its 40th anniversary, when the public voted for Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, which originally won in 1981.
The Golden Booker award marked the end of the Man Booker 50 Festival on the banks of the river Thames in London.
The Booker Prize for Fiction was first awarded in 1969 and has been sponsored by Man Group since 2002.