An unsurprising result then, but probably the right one. As a friend of mine commented, after all the ‘controversy’ about how populist and unBookerish the shortlist was, it was ironic that the prize went to the most Bookerish author on it. There’s the feeling that, like Martin Scorsese winning an Oscar for ‘The Departed’ when he should clearly have won it years earlier for ‘Raging Bull’, Barnes is being honoured for a lifetime of work rather than for one specific book. I haven’t read ‘The Sense of an Ending’ yet, and after a frenzied march around the west end of Glasgow during my lunch hour in which I failed to find a copy in any bookshop, 2nd hand or otherwise, it’ll be a few days before I do. In his reserved and unobtrusive way, Barnes is actually a very good writer – less dramatic or showy than his peers (the Amis/Rushdie/McEwan crowd), and certainly less exuberant on a sentence-by-sentence level, Barnes is a master of those old fashioned skills of characterisation, plot, and narrative. He combines this with a light experimentalism in form and structure, his books as much literary or cultural criticism as straight fiction. It’s hard to think of someone describing themselves as a passionate Julian Barnes fan, but when the dust has cleared and posterity has had its wicked way with British post-war fiction, I suspect that he’ll be nearer the top of the league table than the bottom. People will say “Salman who?”, but still be reading Barnes’ excellent ‘Flaubert’s Parrot’, or the underrated ‘Metroland’.
So, till next year, till another contrived controversy, and another vaguely disappointing shortlist!