And The Nobel Prize Goes To… er… hang on…


Like many people, I was surprised at the news that this year’s Nobel Prize for literature had gone to Jean Marie Gustave Le Clézio. I was aware that the committee that gives this award has a sort of knee-jerk opposition to any writer hailing from the United States and, from a political point of view, it was not unexpected that they should opt for a French writer, but I was glad to learn that I was not alone in saying to myself, “Excuse me? Who is this man?”


Intrigued, I set about getting my hands on some of his oeuvre and within a few days I was engrossed in Le Clézio’s first groundbreaking novel, “Le process-verbal”, a title which I understand translates as “The Affidavit”, even though the official English translation is “The Interrogation”. I confess that after half a dozen pages I was tempted to hurl the book into the fire. I couldn’t make head or tail of it, it was far too experimental for my taste, there was far too much going on, the words made such little sense I had to read every paragraph twice. But I stuck at it and gradually I began to enjoy reading it. I learned that I had to absorb it slowly, and just accept that it was written in a way that didn’t coincide with my own ideas about writing. After about fifty pages I was convinced it was worthwhile reading; after a hundred pages I was in love with it; when it came to the end, I was sad that I’d finished it and yet elated at the whole experience.


Nobody that I know has read this book. Now, I don’t know if that authorises me to say what’s it about or not, but what the hell. The novel is about this chap called Adam, who has sort of deserted from society. He is a bit of a nutter, to say the least, and finally gets locked up for going against the world and its conventions. Sometimes we see Adam from the outside, as the author describes how he lives and what he does, and sometimes we see what’s going on inside his own head. At no time does the author justify or sympathise with Adam’s bizarre behaviour, and Adam himself hardly goes out of his way to appeal to the reader’s feelings, but I couldn’t help identifying with him, not exactly feeling sorry for him, but rather admiring his lunatic integrity and envying his independence.


If you were to take “Catcher in the Rye” and mix it with “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”, “L’étranger” and “Siddhartha” you might well come up with something similar to “Le próces-verbal”.


As I’ve said, this is the only book I’ve read by Le Clézio. I don’t know if he’s widely read in his home country or if he enjoys a kind of snobbish mystique as a minority writer. The Nobel Prize for literature is considered the top award a writer can get and to grant it to somebody who is practically unread seems to be a way of saying something like: “We at the Nobel committee know more about literature than you do”. Their decisions have been debatable in recent years. How come Salman Rushdie and Mario Vargas Llosa have never won this prize, while Imre Kertész and Elfriede Jelinek have? What do Philip Roth and John Updike have to do to gain recognition? (Apply for French nationality, perhaps?)


I was pleased last year when Doris Lessing won, stunned when José Saramago won, irritated when Derek Walcott won, outraged when Camilo José Cela won, chuffed when Gabriel García Márquez won… This could go on for ever so I’ll stop now.


Yes, “Le próces-verbal” is a good book, but come on, “Midnight’s Children” and “Conversación en la Catedral” are landmarks in world literature and to deny their authors the greatest literary award is, at best, an oversight and at worst, petty and spiteful.


Yours faithfully,



One response to this post.

  1. Posted by poet on October 20, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    he surely deserved it
    it contains the forbidden erotonomicon and the poems new york olympia and exhibition of orthodromic retrospection


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