TalkOn Nobel Prize Winners (Literature) Your Thoughts?

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On Nobel Prize Winners (Literature) Your Thoughts?

Sep 16, 2019, 8:46am

Dear Group,

Recently I thought about the works I own by Nobel prize winners, and what I think of their works (and I would like to hear your observations on their works :-)
One of my favourite authors is Radyard Kippling

I realised my books (of this ilk) are mainly from the Post War era, but also an era about 20 Years before my birth (!920+)

I realize that I really know nothing about (most) other cultures and I do wonder about other works.

I do like/love Pablo Neruda and Jorges Borges

Thoughts please.


Sep 16, 2019, 9:22am

Algernon: I say, do you fancy Kipling?

Bert: Dunno mate, I've never kippled...

Sep 16, 2019, 9:52am

Looking over the list of winners, I'm seeing a lot of names that I unfortunately don't recognize: (is Jorge Borges there? I don't see him.)

I've read and especially like Hermann Hesse (1946), William Faulkner (1949), John Steinbeck (1962) and William Golding (1983).

Kipling is the earliest I've (1907) but wouldn't rate as a favourite. Same for Pearl S. Buck (1938), Ernest Hemingway (1954), Albert Camus (1957), Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1970), Gabriel Marquez (1982), and Alice Munro (2013).

I would like to read Sinclair Lewis, Thomas Mann, Pablo Neruda, Saul Bellow, Isaac Singer, Elias Canetti, Naguib Mahfouz, Nadine Gordimer, Toni Morrison, Gunter Grass, V.S. Naipaul, J.M. Coetzee, Doris Lessing, Mario Llosa, and Kazuo Ishiguro.

Regarding the many others: I've heard Dylan many times, know some of the poets by name, and that's it. As with most literary prizes, winners don't necessarily go on to have lasting fame as household names. That doesn't make them any less worth looking into, of course.

Edited: Sep 16, 2019, 11:48am

Borges was one of the writers famous for repeatedly not winning the Nobel. Apparently he was nominated in 1967.
I've often wished that Thomas Bernhard could have won - I'm sure it would have been a magnificently insulting acceptance speech... (which is probably why he never did).

Crude statistic: I've read at least something by 60 of the 122 winners, and I think I'd consider about half of those as writers who are (or have been) very important to me.

There about 1900 unique authors between the books I've catalogued on LT. Probably 1000 of those will be authors of poetry, drama, fiction or literary non-fiction, so laureates account for around 6%, possibly a bit more if you count books rather than people.

Hesse, Gide, Patrick White, GBS and Sinclair Lewis are writers I read a lot of when I was younger but haven't really felt the need to come back to in recent years. Yasunari Kawabata is someone I only discovered quite recently where I thought "I wish I'd known about him a long time ago".

Pre-WWI I've only read Kipling, Lagerlöf and Hauptmann. Kipling does matter to me despite his outdated politics - he's such a brilliant technician of short stories and light verse. From the little bit of Hauptmann I read, I had the opposite reaction, probably unfair...

Of the 21st century winners, Coetzee, Jelinek, Lessing, Müller and Munro all made a big impression on me, Vargas Llosa, Ishiguro and Modiano less so. Pamuk is a bit in the middle.

Laureates I feel I should perhaps read one day but haven't yet:
Frédéric Mistral, Henryk Sienkiewicz, Maurice Maeterlinck, Rabindranath Tagore, Romain Rolland, Knut Hamsun, Anatole France, Pearl S. Buck, Gabriela Mistral, Bertrand Russell, François Mauriac, Winston Churchill, Octavio Paz*, Imre Kertész, J. M. G. Le Clézio* (the two with stars are on the TBR shelf)

Laureates I know little or nothing about other than that they are laureates:
Sully Prudhomme, Theodor Mommsen, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, José Echegaray, Giosuè Carducci, Rudolf Christoph Eucken, Paul von Heyse, Verner von Heidenstam, Karl Adolph Gjellerup, Henrik Pontoppidan, Carl Spitteler, Jacinto Benavente, Władysław Reymont, Henri Bergson, Erik Axel Karlfeldt, Ivan Bunin, Roger Martin du Gard, Frans Eemil Sillanpää, Johannes Vilhelm Jensen, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Salvatore Quasimodo, Saint-John Perse, Giorgos Seferis, Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Miguel Ángel Asturias, Eyvind Johnson, Harry Martinson, Eugenio Montale, Vicente Aleixandre, Odysseas Elytis, Jaroslav Seifert, Claude Simon, Wisława Szymborska, Gao Xingjian, Tomas Tranströmer, Mo Yan, Svetlana Alexievich

Edited: Sep 16, 2019, 5:58pm

Just to complicate matters, here's a name not on any of those lists because he's being tipped as a nominee next year: Gerald Murnane. I only know of him through my Australian contact, Bruce Gillespie, who published Murnane in his early years, possibly forty years or so back. Since then he has become a major name in Australian literature, but of course is little known outside Oz. His most recent novel, A Season on Earth, has now been published in the UK but because Murnane remains something of an unknown quantity, critical reaction here has been muted. But the New York Times called him 'the best writer you've never heard of'.

Sep 17, 2019, 2:30am

Am a fan of the writing of Faulkner, Golding, Jelinek, Lessing, Ishiguro and Alexievich. Have also read Kipling, Mann, Jensen, Eliot, Hemingway, Camus, Steinbeck, Solzhenitsyn, White, Miłosz, Mahfouz, Coetzee, Pamuk, Müller and Vargas Llosa. Some of those I took to more than others.

Sep 17, 2019, 7:41am

Speaking of tipped to win, the ever-popular Haruki Murakami keeps being bandied about but has never made it.

Sep 17, 2019, 8:07am

Jorge Luis Borges is not a Nobel prize winner, though a lot of people think that he should be.
I have read Pablo Neruda since I was a todler, because he is canon in my country, but I've never liked him, especially after knowing how he was in his private life (I know that usually you can separate the literature and the person, but still). If we're talking about chilean prize winners, I much prefer Gabriela Mistral.
I'm kind of a fan of Kazuo Ishiguro and Svetlana Alexievich. I have all of their books, though I did not like a few of Ishiguro (like the last one), but I love every book published by Alexievich (though I still haven't read two). I also like Kawabata, Hesse, Faulkner, Hemingway, Camus and a few others, but there's a lot of winners that I've never read, at all. I would like to read, for example, Wisława Szymborska, but I'm not that good with poetry (with a few exceptions) or Doris Lessing, since I'm trying to read more literature written by women, because this year I realised that most of my what I read is written by men.

Edited: Sep 17, 2019, 10:27pm

>4 thorold:

From the first group, of those I've read...

You owe it to yourself to read some Hamsun. If only to sample, I'd say Pan or Hunger.

Imre Kertész left a deep impression on me, in particular Kaddish for an unborn child. But I suppose Fatelessness is the most remarkable, for being so very different from the rest of extermination camp literature.

From the second group, I think you would like Bunin. A stylist as gorgeous as Nabokov--or more. Interesting personality too, a sort of mystic, apolitical anti-Communist (the opposite of Blok...)

Then you get a bunch of poets, so depends on how you feel about poetry in translation... I'd go for Quasimodo (practically home turf...), Seferis, Elytis, Aleixandre and Seifert. Aleixandre has the distinction of being the first more or less openly gay Spanish writer.

Sep 18, 2019, 5:11am

thorold, yes indeed. Not only would Bernhard have been a worthy winner but his acceptance/rejection address might have been splendid. Let others bemoan the misery of an artist dead of hunger only to be recognised a decade later, or the promising young researcher on the verge of discovering a cure for gout when killed by a malfunctioning rollercoaster: If only he'd made that speech.

guido47, I have more respect for Nobel literary prize than Booker, Pulitzer, etc. but very little for some of the winners. Pearl Buck? Kipling? Sinclair Lewis? Steinbeck? Sorry bout Kipling--on the other hand though I've hugely enjoyed reading & even re-reading some of Lewis's books I know he wasn't a notably good writer. And a recent choice has pretty much stripped the prize of all gravitas, even credibility. For what it's worth I think Murnane would be a good choice for the next one--but then there's always Joni Mitchell whose ethereal poetry has given shape to the aspirations of sensitive youth, poetry so etherally sensitive that her brave presentations of noodling as melody all too often slip by unnoticed. Plus Margellos syndrome.

Sep 18, 2019, 8:44am

>5 RobertDay: interesting- I hadn’t heard of Murnane, but thanks to the magic of ebooks, I’m now well into The plains. Not regretting it yet...

However, after Dylan’s reluctance to show up and all the scandals this year, I expect they’ll want someone for next laureate who is sure to give them good value for money on the podium. An octogenarian on the other side of the planet who likes to tell the world that he has never been on a plane might lose out in that respect...

>9 LolaWalser: Thanks, taking note (but making no commitments!).

Sep 18, 2019, 10:26am

>11 thorold: - after Dylan’s reluctance to show - that's not strictly true, half of his difficulty was the Never Ending tour, with more dates due. (As of April 2019 this 'tour' has comprised of over 3000 performances).

Not sure Murnane has a chance of winning. Too many English language winners recently.

>10 bluepiano: - when Dylan won a number of people suggested that Joni Mitchell or Leonard Cohen should have won instead. I can't help but see Dylan's award as political, it generated more comment and column inches that winners had for many years. Given the declining, and ageing, readership of literary fiction I expect Ed Sheeran will win in 2030 for the same reasons.*

*disclaimer - I am not suggesting that for a minute Sheeran is remotely deserving of any prize, especially not one concerning his music.

Oct 5, 2019, 5:51am

Thank you group :-)

You have indeed pointed me to some interesting stuff


Oct 5, 2019, 10:36am

>9 LolaWalser: I found half a dozen of Aleixandre’s poems in a Dutch-Spanish bilingual anthology in the library. Interesting, but not enough really to get an impression. And poetry in translation or in a language you don’t know that well is always tricky to assess. The poems in the selection reminded me a little of Auden in their tone and manner, as much as a poem in Spanish can be like a poem in English. There seemed to be a lot of geology (volcanoes and things) in the imagery, but maybe that was what caught the eye of the compiler of the anthology.

Oct 7, 2019, 12:46am

The Guardian speculating on the next winner(s):

Maryse Condé, Antje Krog, and Annie Ernaux are among the serious contenders mentioned. As >12 Jargoneer: says, the betting seems to be against writers in English.

Oct 7, 2019, 12:35pm

I think Anatole France is underrated, unjustly ignored nowadays.

As to our contemporaries, I'd go for A. S. Byatt.

Oct 7, 2019, 6:53pm

I'd buy it too

Edited: May 4, 5:24pm

This message has been deleted by its author.

Edited: Oct 10, 2019, 7:45am

To judge from the Guardian article above, Olga was foreseen, but Peter might be a surprise.

Oct 10, 2019, 9:10am

>19 Cecrow: - Handke is a big surprise due to his political views. I'm a little surprised at both awards, it was obvious it was they were going to split the award between the sexes but I thought they would look beyond Europe as well, especially as the committee itself talked about the award being too Euro-centric. Despite everything leading up to these announcements Tokarczuk and Handke seem like very traditional laureates, who rather than ushering in a new era for the prize suggest that, when faced when a crisis, the committee have gone with the tried and tested.

Oct 10, 2019, 9:37am

Some of the contenders listed in an article in The New Republic:

Alex Shephard. New Republic 10/09/2019. Who Will Win the 2019 (or the 2018!) Nobel Prize in Literature?.

Oct 10, 2019, 6:01pm

Regardless of Handke's politics or beliefs, a few years back he disparaged the notion of the Nobel Prize, yet now he steps forward with his hand out for the big money.

Dunno what sort of writer he is, but as a human being I can't say much for him.

Oct 10, 2019, 6:07pm

Those Alex Shephard articles are a hoot!

Oct 10, 2019, 10:52pm

I didn't know anything about the other winner, Olga Tokarczuk, but she recently published a novel (in Polish, not yet translated) that sounds quite interesting. Reviewed in TLS, 10/10/2019.

Olga Tokarczuk, Ksiegi Jakubowe (The Books of Jacob). Review by Ania Ready, under title: Word without God : Rewriting history through humanity, suffering and religion. From the review: "In one of the rooms in Rabbi Szor’s house in the small town of Rohatyn, in a remote south-eastern part of the vast Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, an old woman is dying. The timing is unfortunate: one of Szor’s sons is just about to have his wedding. The rabbi prepares an amulet to prolong the life of the woman, Jenta, for another few days, and conceals a piece of writing within it. When no one is looking, Jenta takes out this bit of paper and swallows it. She will never die but will remain suspended somewhere between life and death, witnessing one of the most extraordinary events in the eight-century-long history of Jews and Christians in Eastern Europe – the rise of the messianic Jewish sect led by her grandson Jacob Frank." (Frank was apparently a real person) At 912 pages in the Polish edition, it appears to be quite substantial; hopefully an English translation is on the way.

Oct 11, 2019, 2:15am

I've seen lots of positive words for Tokarczuk's Flights, published last year or the year before by Fitzcarraldo Editions (who have an excellent list). Handke sounds like a fascist scumbag. He was rejected for one award because of his politics. He's also written articles defending Milosevic and the Serbian attempt at genocide.

Edited: Oct 11, 2019, 5:43pm

I find it odd that an Austrian would think so warmly of Serbia in the first place. If one is that determined to be guided by history (not a wise move most of the time), then the events of August 1914 would hardly endear any Serbian nationalist to an Austrian.

Austrian cultural nationalism has been re-inventing itself since 1945. Mostly, its recent manifestations have been about establishing a distinct identity for Austrians, separate from Germans. But there was fall-out from the civil wars that broke up Yugoslavia which re-awakened a sense of the "Old Empire". Perhaps the Austrians I correspond with have a specific perspective on this that a younger generation doesn't share; but Handke isn't of the younger generation.

Modern Austrian political nationalism, in the form of the FPÖ (Freedom Party), does sometimes have a strange view of their own philosophy, being at the same time anti-EU (and so, by extension, anti-internationalist) and pan-German. Considering this, I'd suggest that Handke may be a talented writer but a very confused thinker.

Oct 11, 2019, 10:26pm

One of the obscure Nobel winners listed at >4 thorold: was Henrik Pontoppidan. A new translation of his masterpiece, Lucky Per was recently issued by Everyman in 2019. (Published by Lang in 2010 in the UK)

Two articles:

Garth Risk Hallberg, LitHub, 04/15/2019. Why More People Should Read This Danish Masterpiece. This is the introduction to the Everyman edition.

Fredrick Jameson, London Review of Books, 10/20/2011. Cosmic Neutrality.

Edited: Oct 17, 2019, 3:21pm

In this week's TLS, 10/11/2019, there are two articles on the Nobel prize winners. Some of the articles in the current edition may be viewed, but only for a week. From the icon by the Tokaczuk article, it may be that it is only available for subscribers. (I subscribe so I can't really tell)

Ben Hutchinson. Peter Handke: entering the curious canon. Focuses on his literary career, although his Slobodan Milosevic support is also addressed.

Jacques Testard. Fitz, Fitz, let’s go : A note from the Nobel prizewinning Olga Tokarczuk’s publisher Jacques Testard. For me, the hot news is that her magnum opus (so far), The Books of Jacob (see >25 featherbear:), is tentatively scheduled to be published by Riverhead in the U.S. in 2021. Hopefully I'll still be around with all, or most, of my mental faculties available!

Oct 8, 7:29am

Today's big name was Louise Glück. Curiously many US citizens among recent Nobel Laureates in Literature - time to look somewhere else?

Oct 8, 1:44pm

>32 supercell:, they average one winner every ten years or so, not too terrible?