PHILIP ROTH, America’s most decorated living novelist, yesterday won the fourth Man Booker International Prize, but the award sank into controversy as one of the judges resigned in protest.
The 78-year-old author beat off competition from 12 other writers — including two from China — for the $100,000 award.
The prize was first presented in 2005, and is given every two years for a body of work that was written originally in English or is widely available in English translation.
Roth, who could not travel to Sydney to receive the accolade because of back problems, said it was a great honour to be recognised.
“One of the particular pleasures I’ve had as a writer is to have my work read internationally despite all the heartaches of translation that that entails,” the Connecticut-based author said in a statement.
“I hope the prize will bring me to the attention of readers around the world who are not familiar with my work. This is a great honour and I’m delighted to receive it.”
Roth is one of the world’s most acclaimed writers, and his humorous studies of Jewish-American identity have won a wide following.
While the Booker panel chairman Rick Gekoski praised Roth’s five decades at the pinnacle of world literature, one of his two fellow judges said she had resigned from the panel rather than endorse the award.
Carmen Callil, founder of the British feminist publisher Virago Press, said in The Guardian that praise for Roth was a case of the “emperor’s clothes”.
“I don’t rate him as a writer at all. I made it clear before the longlist that I didn’t rate Philip Roth, and that I wouldn’t put him on the longlist, so I was amazed when he stayed there,” she said.
Callil said Roth “goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book. It’s as though he’s sitting on your face and you can’t breathe”.
Roth is best known for his 1969 novel Portnoy’s Complaint, and for his trilogy comprising the Pulitzer Prize-winning American Pastoral (1997), I Married a Communist (1998) and The Human Stain (2000).
In 1960, aged 26, he won the US National Book Award for his first book, Goodbye, Columbus, and again in 1995 for Sabbath’s Theater.
He has also won two National Book Critics Circle awards and three PEN/Faulkner awards. In 2001 he was awarded the gold medal for fiction by The American Academy of Arts and Letters.
His most recent book, Nemesis, was published in 2010.
The Man Booker International Prize was already dogged by controversy this year when British thriller writer John le Carre asked that his name be withdrawn from the shortlist because “I do not compete for literary prizes”.
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