Haruki Murakami favourite in Nobel Prize race

Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami has emerged as favourite in the 2012 race to the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature with the bookies Ladbrokes quoting odds of 10/1.

Not far behind, at 12/1, are Chinese author Mo Yan (actually a pen name for renowned dissident author Guan Moye, it translates as Don’t Speak) and the Dutch writer Cees Nooteboom. Slightly longer shots are Israeli Amos Oz, Americans Phillip Roth and Cormac McCarthy, and Italian Dacia Maraini.

Many years ago, when Murakami was just beginning to gain international success, I interviewed him in a cafe in Tokyo. It was more like having coffee with a film star than an author. Shy and impeccably polite, he was forced to spend much of the time apologising for the constant interruption from the young Japanese students, many but not exclusively female, who wanted his autograph or to have their picture taken with him.

Despite the international acclaim that is heaped upon books like Norwegian Wood (recently made into a visually beautiful film), IQ84 and the Wind-up Bird Chronicle, it is the slightly hallucinogenic mystery, Wild Sheep Chase, that remains my favourite. I still have my copy bought in the English section of a large Tokyo bookshop. More accurately, I should say copies, as the book was printed in two slim and diminutive volumes each with an ornate paper Obi around them. 

Unlike most prizes, the Nobel Prize for Literature is awarded for a body of work which (based on a translation of the inscription on the medal) “enhance life which is beautified through art.” Begun in 1901 there have been 104 prizes awarded to some of the most notable authors from around the world.

Whilst the horse race approach may create a sense of excitement, the process of selection is far more scientific and lengthy. Each year, between 600 and700 invitations are sent out to individuals and organisations that are part of the official process such as Professors of Literature, previous Nobel Laureates in Literature and the heads of societies of authors in various countries.  These are then whittled down to a list of five priority candidates and their contribution to the world of literature is then discussed by the members of the NobelAcademy. No official short-list is announced and the winner must receive at least half of the possible votes.

For those who like trivia, the first Nobel Prize for literature was awarded in 1901 to French poet and philosopher Sully Prudhomme. The youngest person to receive the Prize was Rudyard Kipling when he was 42. The oldest was Doris Lessing who was 88 when she received her prize in 2007. Only 12 women, including Toni Morrison, Pearl Buck and Nadine Gordimer, have been recipients.

Two people have turned down the award, Boris Pasternak who “accepted first, later caused by the authorities of his country (Soviet Union) to decline the prize and Jean Paul Sartre who “declined all official honours”.

The Nobel Prize for Literature will be announced in October.

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