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Philip Roth win divided panel, Man Booker judge admits

image captionPhilip Roth did not attend Tuesday's ceremony on the grounds of ill health

The Booker International Prize judging panel was "animated by disagreement" over the decision to recognise author Philip Roth, its chairman has revealed.

"When you judge a literary prize, taste and judgement collide [and] egos can be bruised," said Dr Rick Gekoski at an awards ceremony in central London.

Roth, 78, did not attend the event, but sent a short film instead.

One of the judges, feminist publisher Carmen Callil, resigned in protest over his selection in May.

The prize made headlines earlier this year when spy novelist John le Carre asked for his name to be taken off the shortlist.

The award has previously been presented to Albanian writer Ismail Kadare, Nigeria's Chinua Achebe and Canadian author Alice Munro.

Speaking on Tuesday, Dr Gekoski saluted Callil's "ferocious commitment" while acknowledging Roth's work divided opinion.

"I can recall few of his novels that don't provoke an occasional but overwhelming desire to shout 'will you shut up!' at a character or his author," he told an audience at London's Banqueting House.

"How often, reading him, do we pause for breath, put the book down, pace about, sit down, chuck a pail of water over our heads?

"The challenge is inexorable, and sometimes infuriating," he continued. "As a reader you cannot but respond, and you have a choice.

image captionAuthor and publisher Dr Rick Gekoski chaired the three-person panel

"You can decide that you are being bullied, hectored, asked too much for too little, and walk away.

"Or you may believe, as I do, that the fierceness of the demands of a Roth novel is so potent... that you are positively anxious to come out for the next round."

Roth, the fourth recipient of the Man Booker International Prize, is best known for his controversial 1969 novel Portnoy's Complaint.

His other books include Goodbye, Columbus, American Pastoral - for which he received the Pulitzer Prize - and 2010's Nemesis.

Roth read the final pages of the latter work in his film, saying they represented "the end of the line after 31 books".

Set during World War II, Nemesis - described as "masterful" by Dr Gekoski - tells of a polio outbreak in New Jersey.

In May, Callil said she withdrew from the Man Booker panel after her fellow judges decided to give Roth the £60,000 prize.

"I don't rate him as a writer at all," she told the Guardian. "He goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book."

Over a long and distinguished career, Roth has been censured by some for his alleged misogyny and attacked by others for his purported anti-semitism.

Speaking to the BBC's Front Row programme this month, the author said such critics of his work were "cuckoo" and "don't know what they are talking about".

More on this story

  • Booker judge Carmen Calil 'withdraws' over Roth win