Coetzee wins Booker Prize

1999 is the year of the bleak horse.

Published October 26, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

J.M. Coetzee was declared the winner of the 1999 Booker Prize for his novel "Disgrace" at a ceremony in London Monday, according to the Associated Press. The only author to win two Bookers, Coetzee was not present to receive the award, which comes with a 20,000-pound ($33,246) purse in addition to the 1,000 pounds ($1,662) awarded to each of the six authors who make the short list. His editor, Geoff Mulligan, accepted it on his behalf and read a letter in which the South African writer attributed his winning to a "lucky" confluence of the stars.

The favorite to win this year's prize (a popular wagering contest among London's bookmakers, to the eternal amusement of the American literary press) had been Michael Frayn, for his genial novel "Headlong," about a man who makes a mess out of his life by pursuing a painting that he believes is a long-lost Bruegel. The Coetzee novel, on the other hand, is about a divorced college professor who makes a mess out of his life by having an affair with a student. The Frayn book is buoyantly comic, as befits the man who wrote the play "Noises Off"; Coetzee's is unrelentingly bleak.

The other books on the short list were "Our Fathers" by Andrew O'Hagan, the story of a Scottish wrecking worker coming to terms with his abusive, alcoholic father; "Fasting, Feasting" by Anita Desai, a novel of middle-class Indian family life; "The Blackwater Lightship" by Colm Tribmn, about a battling Irish family whose son is stricken by AIDS; and "The Map of Love" by Ahdaf Soueif, a historical saga of cross-cultural love set in Egypt.

The Booker McConnell Prize (its full name) was established in 1968 by Booker McConnell, a multinational conglomerate. The winning book must be a full-length work written in English by a citizen of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, Ireland, Pakistan or South Africa. Unlike the United States' National Book Award, the Booker is awarded to novels only, and the winner is chosen by a diverse panel of judges -- this year's panel included a literature professor, a member of Parliament, the literary editor of the Independent newspaper, a nonfiction author and a previous Booker winner. The winner of the National Book Award for fiction (to be announced Nov. 17) is always chosen by a panel of novelists, some of whom are former winners. And the National Book Award carries no cash prize.

By Laura Miller

Laura Miller is the author of "The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia."

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