16 October 2018
Welcome to all our guests this evening. This is a special one in the history of the Man Booker Prize. It seems fitting that the shortlist this year, the year of the prize’s Golden Jubilee, should be so particularly diverse and wide-ranging, and celebrates precisely the kind of border-hopping, time-travelling, mind-expanding inventiveness that novels do best.
Being the sponsor of the world’s leading literary prize has its many pleasures and its occasional surprises. In one instance recently, an established British author declared that Man Group was “the enemy” of literature. Now, I don’t know this author personally, but I think he’d probably be pleasantly surprised to discover how endearingly bookish many of my colleagues are and how many of our 70 million pensioner clients are his target audience. However, his comments are interesting, because they come at a time when the arts are experiencing an unprecedented withdrawal of public funding. Now more than ever, literature and the arts need their champions to step in where public money has been pulled out.
The arts need sponsors –generous sponsors – and not ones that impose their views or interests, but ones that support art in its purest form. We are proud to do so, and particularly proud to support a prize that does so much to promote the novel – the most complex and engaging art form we have.
The form is in robust health, as the shortlist this evening testifies, but there are a whole host of competing modes of entertainment that could – if we are not careful – leave the novel feeling like a relic. For authors to create their best work – and I’ve heard this from so many of the winners of this prize over the years – they need time: time spent on the projects that matter, not those undertaken to keep the wolf from the door. Money helps buy them that time. If we can help the very best become even better through the aegis of this great prize, we consider it worth putting up with the occasional barbs.
In this 50th anniversary year, we’ve seen a series of questions asked about the relevance and structure of the Prize. We welcome this questioning – it’s only through such self-examination that the Man Booker Prize will retain its position of global pre-eminence. We didn’t play any part in the foundation’s decision to open up the prize to all novels published in English in 2014, but we supported this decision once made and continue to support it now.
It’s striking that this conversation of inclusion feels like it has gained traction at a time when so much of the political and economic landscape is dominated by questions of borders and boundaries. We believe that the people who will flourish most in the 21st century will be those who are at home in the world, not just in the place they come from. Novels help us to achieve that, opening us to the experience of others, charting both the differences and the similarities of the humans with whom we share the planet.
The Man Booker Prize has changed the face of literary fiction over the past 50 years. It has brought some of the leading names in world literature to the attention of the reading public. It has uncovered extraordinary new voices and championed novels that have helped us to understand the great challenges of our age. These are books which have conveyed deep and universal truths. We’re enormously proud of our role, now stretching back 16 years, in supporting the Prize and its sister, the Man Booker International Prize. And while the Prize will continue to provoke, court controversy and raise the occasional hackle, all of us here, I think, can agree on one thing: the continued power of the novel to move, to entertain, to enlighten.