Man Booker Prize won by Julian Barnes on fourth attempt


Julian Barnes thanked the judges "for their wisdom" and the sponsors "for their cheque"

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Julian Barnes has won the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Sense of an Ending, having been shortlisted on three previous occasions.

Barnes - the bookmakers' favourite - said he was "as much relieved as I am delighted" to win the £50,000 prize.

The judges had been criticised for putting a focus on "readability" in their choice of shortlisted novels.

Chairwoman, ex-MI5 boss Dame Stella Rimington, said the publishing world was like the "KGB at its height".

Of Barnes's novel, Dame Stella said it had "the makings of a classic of English literature".

She described the novel as "exquisitely written, subtly plotted and reveals new depths with each reading".

"We thought it was a book that spoke to the humankind in the 21st Century."

In reference to the row over the literary merit of the books the judges chose, she accused her critics within the publishing world of resembling the Russian security service for their use of "black propaganda, de-stabilisation operations, plots and double agents".

Start Quote

If the physical book... is to resist the challenge of the e-book, it has to look like something worth buying and worth keeping”

End Quote Julian Barnes

She said the judges had followed the debate "sometimes with great glee and amusement".

"We were talking about readability and quality. We were certainly always looking for quality as well," she said. "That fact it's been in the headlines is very gratifying."

Barnes, in his acceptance speech, said: "I'd like to thank the judges - whom I won't hear a word against - for their wisdom. And the sponsors for their cheque."

Thanking the book's designer, Suzanne Dean, he added: "Those of you who've seen my book - whatever you may think of its contents - will probably agree that it is a beautiful object.

"And if the physical book, as we've come to call it, is to resist the challenge of the e-book, it has to look like something worth buying and worth keeping."

Industry paper The Bookseller reported that publisher Random House is now reprinting 75,000 copies of Barnes's book following its victory.

Waterstones said it had ordered extra copies of the book, while WH Smith said it would feature the title in an upcoming promotion.

'Rather boring'

The shortest novel of the six finalists, The Sense of an Ending is about childhood friendship and the imperfections of memory.


  • Barnes has written 10 previous novels, numerous short stories and essays
  • He was born in Leicester in 1946 and was educated at the City of London School
  • He studied modern languages at Oxford, graduating in 1968
  • His jobs include literary editor for the New Statesman and TV critic for the Observer
  • In France he is the only writer to have won both the Prix Medicis (for Flaubert's Parrot) and the Prix Femina (for Talking It Over)

It is narrated by a middle-aged man, Tony Webster, who reflects on the paths he and his friends have taken as the past catches up with him via a bequeathed diary.

Dame Stella said that although the main character appeared at first to be "rather boring", he was gradually revealed to be somebody quite different.

The former spy chief added: "One of the things the book does is talk about humankind. None of us really know who we are - we present ourselves in all sorts of ways."

The other nominees were Carol Birch (Jamrach's Menagerie); Canadians Patrick deWitt (The Sisters Brothers) and Esi Edugyan (Half Blood Blues); and debut authors Stephen Kelman (Pigeon English) and AD Miller (Snowdrops).

Barnes had been shortlisted for the prize on three previous occasions, without success.

The London-based author was nominated in 1984 for Flaubert's Parrot, in 1998 for England, England and in 2005 for Arthur and George.

Julian Barnes Barnes had been shortlisted for the Booker on three previous occasions

Dame Stella said the five judges had reached a final, unanimous decision after about half an hour of debate on Tuesday.

"I can tell you there was no blood on the carpet and nobody went off in a huff," she said.

Her fellow Booker judges were writer and journalist Matthew d'Ancona, author Susan Hill, author and politician Chris Mullin and Gaby Wood of the Daily Telegraph.

Despite the literary row, this year's shortlist has been the best-selling in Booker history - sales of the shortlisted novels are up 127% on last year.

According to Nielsen BookScan, 98,876 copies were sold in the six weeks after the shortlist was announced.

Snowdrops has sold most, shifting more than 35,000 copies since it was shortlisted. Next is Jamrach's Menagerie with 19,500 and The Sense of an Ending with 15,000.

The 2011 Booker nominees read excerpts from their works

Barnes's book has sold more than 27,500 copies since it was published in early August.

At 150 pages, it is not the shortest book to win the Booker. That record is held by Penelope Fitzgerald's 132-page Offshore, which won in 1979.

Commenting on the winner, Jonathan Ruppin of booksellers Foyles said: "As a writer characterised by immense intelligence and imagination, it would have been remarkable if Barnes had never won the Booker.

"This is definitely one that splits opinion, with some finding it subtly powerful and others frustratingly underdeveloped. But great writers rarely please everyone."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    25 comments in more than 24 hours. I guess that sums up the general publics interest in the Booker Prize.

    BBC, might I politely suggest you review how you choose HYS subjects, this one does not seem to be very popular.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Hearty congratulations to Man Booker Prize winner Julian Barnes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    There needs to be a combination of both 'readability' and poetic prose. David Mitchell hasn't won the award yet because, despite having a brilliant way with words and some very interesting set-ups, he tends to go for one similie too many. Iain Banks, on the other hand, has excellent stories but inconsistent narration. And PD James writes good plots but betrays them with overreliance on exposition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    John Allen... I laughed out loud at his question below... but I don't know why.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Immensely well deserved, and a public recognition long long overdue. By a long chalk, Mr Barnes writes the most beautiful English of any writer alive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    I"m so glad he won. It's a wonderful book. Absolutely wonderful. I have not read all the others, so cannot say whether I agree that it was the best, but what an enormous relief that Julian Barnes has finally won. I still struggle to believe that Flaubert's Parrot did not win all those years ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I have no problem with the winning book (it's very good), nor do I have a problem with Julian Barnes winning - what I do have a problem with is large cash prizes being awarded to wealthy authors.

    Could he not be awarded the (deserved) kudos, and the sponsor 'sponsors' a couple of young promising authors through university in the winners name?

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    I really enjoyed this book. Well written, well crafted and shaped and hardly a word ot of place. Congratulations after a long haul Mr Barnes!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    What a relief to see some focus on 'readability'. In recent years there has been a tendency to focus on high-quality prose at the expense of plot. All the great writers in history have had strong plots and characters as well as poetic prose.

  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    A well-deserved award to the author of a fine work of art. Congratulations, Mr. Barnes!

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    'Excellent choice... I read this at the Edinburgh Book Festival and I laughed out loud without know why I was laughing.'

    Isn't that a form of psychosis ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Excellent choice... I read this at the Edinburgh Book Festival and I laughed out loud without know why I was laughing. It is a precious insight into how we store memories and how they affect us if they are ever challenged. (It's does not seem to be written to be made into a film which makes it such a unique and extraordinary read.)

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    The really great writers--those who truly love language and its possibilities--don't care about making a little yarn that will keep the dim entertained for another hour in the day. They care about seeing if they can make the novel create a new sense of being. Readability be damned!

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    To me, "The Sense Of An Ending" was introspection, with one unexpected twist at the end. Clearly the Booker leans toward de-compensating middle aged men, as in "The Sea", "The Finkler Question" and now "The Sense Of An Ending"!
    I managed to read 4 of the finalists. To me "Jamrach's Menagerie", "The Sisters Brothers" and "Snowdrops" had more substance and excitement. Please don't forget them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Julian Grimes was the obvious winner, given the shortlist, but why was Alan Hollinghurst ignored?

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    The readabilty of a book is the most important aspect of any book, a book cannot be juded by flowery writing the story must come first. If the booker prize panel are going by the literary aspects alone then they would be wrong and deserved to be critised as i have not read the book i cannot judge but when it comes in the local library i will give it a go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I watched the Book Review last Friday, and Barnes' contribution was head and shoulders above the rest. A real writer.

    Hopefully my publisher will enter me for the prize next year. Dead Men is certainly readable!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Picking the winner in just 31 minutes? A landslide. A great award for a great writer and a great book.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Great book, one that you can recommend to anyone interested in good literature. Engaging story, keeps you turning the pages, beautiful writing. Short enough so that you do not lose interest at any time. Worthy winner - congratulations to the Man Booker prize judges for getting it exactly right.


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