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Does the Nobel Prize overshadow its winner?

Razia Iqbal | 16:07 UK time, Wednesday, 10 December 2008

clezio_300.jpgIt's a mixed blessing, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

This year, the prize went to the French novelist, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio. Along with the international cachet and recognition, there is also a diploma, a medal and 10m kronor (£831,259) in prize money.

Monsieur Le Clezio received his award today from King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. He has had to endure his accolade being somewhat overshadowed by the comments made by Horace Engdahl, the Swedish Academy's permanent secretary. The insult he unleashed was pretty spectacular. He said that American culture remains "too isolated" and "insular" to produce a new writer of Nobel rank.

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in Philip Roth's house when he heard that. Roth has been touted as a possible winner for many years - well, by journalists anyway.

And then there were the jokes pitting Scandinavian culture against American culture. You know the kind of thing: How could a culture which had produced the likes of Kierkegaard, Ibsen and Stringberg launch insults about scope to a country which has produced Henry James, Saul Bellow, Toni Morrison and Jhumpa Lahiri (to name a few off the top of my head). And now, this "insular" culture has produced a major critical work on Scandinavian Literature: Arnold Weinstein's just published Northern Arts: The Breakthrough of Scandinavian Literature and Art, from Ibsen to Bergen. It must be tempting for the publishers (Princeton University Press) to send a copy to Horace Engdahl!

Anyway, here's to Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio. Remember him?

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