Carmen Callil decided to air her grievances publicly and spectacularly, with initial disparagement and now more considered remarks.
This is the stuff of good literary water-coolering ("It feels as if he is sitting on your face") and a fair glimpse of the politicking and subjectivity of such awards. To be honest, I tend not to find the back-room dealing of the judges interesting, though I do care about who wins these awards since they tend to provide the most publicity literature receives over the course of the year.
What strikes me know, though, is how little Callil's objection to Roth is about Roth himself: of her 828 words, less than a hundred of them are about Roth specifically. The rest are about the scope of the award and her displeasure about the process. I was anxious to see why Callil objected to Roth strongly, but instead all she said was this:
There are great moments in Roth's work. He is clever, harsh, comic, but his reach is narrow. Not in the Austen, Bellow or Updike sense, because they use a narrow canvas to convey the widest concepts and ideas. Roth digs brilliantly into himself, but little else is there. His self-involvement and self-regard restrict him as a novelist. And so he uses a big canvas to do small things, and yet his small things take up oceanic room. The more I read, the more tedious I found his work, the more I heard the swish of emperor's clothes.
Hard to admire him, hard to see him on the long list, hard to award him this international prize.
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