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Atwood and Evaristo: two women, one prize

Written by Arts, Book Reviews, Comment

The saying ‘sharing is caring’ has been around for decades- however, this is the first time it has ever been applied to 2019’s Booker Prize award for fiction, in the cases of Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo.

The decision has caused controversy, with the public torn between ‘The Testaments’ and ‘Girl, Woman, Other’. Both novels possess and effectively demonstrate different qualities to justify their nomination as well as their eventual success. On one hand, Atwood’s sequel is a piece which makes a political statement, following in the footsteps of her seminal classic ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ – while Evaristo’s work is a verse novel which centres on British women of colour. It is worthwhile highlighting the fact that Margaret is the oldest contestant, and that Evaristo is the first black female author to win the award.

Although being nominated for this award is a great honour on its own, it is safe to say that most of the time, the judges are able to decide which piece of fiction has the ‘x-factor’ that makes it worth the title along with the £50,000 prize. The burning question is, however – why were they unable to make a choice this year?

Personally, I felt let down by the sequel of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. Perhaps my expectations were a little too high after the first book and the follow-up, as is the case with many sequels, did not live up to them. Of course, Atwood justly and deftly weaves an important political message through the novel’s plot; but that does not alone merit a Booker Prize, and conspiracy theories are abounding that the award was to commend Atwood’s previous hit, rather than her most recent literary endeavour.

Evaristo’s piece, on the other hand, is a polyphonic, raw and moving novel, which speaks out about struggles not often portrayed in contemporary fiction. Arguably, had it won on its own, the judges would have given the book the chance to reach, and to positively affect, a wider audience. A variety of people have also pointed out that the first woman of colour to win this award has had to share it – which certainly is not positive PR for an old institution with a clear history of favour towards white authors. Evaristo has stated that she is ‘thrilled’ to share this award with the ‘legend that is Margaret Atwood’, despite critical disappointment regarding the result.

Evaristo has stated that she is ‘thrilled’ to share this award with the ‘legend that is Margaret Atwood’

Eishar Brar, editorial director at publisher ‘Knights Of’, stated that it was “incredibly short-sighted for the prize to be split in the year it’s awarded to the first black woman to receive it”. The prominent director later added that “the judges claim they wanted to acknowledge the importance of both books in their cultural context, but this decision completely ignores the context of Bernardine’s win”.

As already mentioned by numerous critics, this is not so much a case of an undeserving winner in Atwood, but more about Evaristo’s brilliance and ability to stand out next to a literary legend. At this point, it is understood that both women are extremely talented and deserving of recognition – but should this have been Evaristo’s year to shine?

Last modified: 12th November 2019

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