The Nobel Prize in Literature is set to be announced tomorrow (medicine, physics and chemistry having been announced already this week) and speculation is running rampant about who will take the medal this year.
As of this writing, betting website Ladbrokes has American Cormac McCarthy (“No Country For Old Men,” “The Road”) leading the pack at 5/2 odds. This is fairly remarkable as the last American to win a literature Nobel was Toni Morrison in 1993, and it may be due to an anti-American bias. In 2008, Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Nobel prize jury, dropped an “extraordinary tirade” against contemporary American literature.
Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can’t get away from the fact that Europe still is the centre of the literary world … not the United States. … The US is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining.
In the last decade the United Kingdom has lead the pack, with three laureates, V.S. Naipaul, Harold Pinter and Doris Lessing. France sort of garnered two, with J.M.G. Le Clezio and the Chinese-born immigrant Gao Xingjian. One each went to Hungary (Imre Kertesz), South Africa (J.M. Coetzee), Austria (Elfriede Jelinek), Turkey (Orhan Pamuk) and Germany (Huerta Muller).
Who are the other major contenders this year? The Guardian is betting on Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who was imprisoned in 1977 for performing his play “I Will Marry When I Want.” The L Magazine largely agrees, noting that Cormac McCarthy has shot up in the odds because “he’s the one author anybody’s heard of.” According to NPR, the Ladbrokes people originally decided this was the year of the poet, and ranked Sweden’s Thomas Transtromer, Syria’s Adonis and Korea’s Ko Un at the top and Ngugi wa Thiong’o at 75 to 1 odds. The poets now go for 17 to 1, 13 to 1 and 12 to 1, respectively.
Others to keep an eye on include:
- Japanese writer Haruki Murakami (“Kafka on the Shore,” “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”), who would be the first Japanese winner since Oe Kenzaburo in 1994, currently at 6 to 1 odds
- Hungarian Peter Nadas (“The End of a Family Story,” “Own Death”), 9 to 1
- Australian Gerald Murnane (“Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs,” “Velvet Waters”), who would be the first Australian winner since Patrick White in 1973, 12 to 1
- American Joyce Carol Oates (“We Were the Mulvaneys,” “them”), a perennial shortlister, 18-1
Finally, some of the long shots:
- Irishman John Banville (“The Book of Evidence,” “The Sea”), 125 to 1
- Norwegian Kjell Askildsen (“Mister Leonard Leonard,” “Everyday”), 125 to 1
- Australian Peter Carey (“Oscar and Lucinda,” “True History of the Kelly Gang”), 125 to 1
- Grecian-Frenchman Vassilis Alexakis (“Les mots étrangers,” “Le fils de King Kong”), 125 to 1
- American William H. Gass (“Omensetter’s Luck,” “The Tunnel”) 125 to 1
- Russian Yevgeny Yevtushenko (“Walk on the Ledge,” “Don’t Die Before You’re Dead”), 200 to 1
You can keep up with the odds until the prize is announced tomorrow morning at Ladbrokes.