Sri-Lanka-born Canadian author Michael Ondaatje’s 1992 Booker Prize winning novel THE ENGLISH PATIENT was awarded the special, one-off Golden Man Booker award last night, to mark the 50th Anniversary of the prestigious literary accolade. All 52 previous winners were eligible, with the judges shortlisting five – one for each decade – IN A FREE STATE (1971) by V.S.Naipaul, MOON TIGER (1987) by Penelope Lively, THE ENGLISH PATIENT, WOLF HALL (2009) by Hilary Mantel and LINCOLN IN THE BARDO (2017) by George Sanders. The prize has been shared on two occasions, one being in 1992 when THE ENGLISH PATIENT and Barry Unsworth’s SACRED HUNGER were chosen as joint winners. The final Golden Prize was selected by public poll.
THE ENGLISH PATIENT centres around the eponymous ‘English patient’, Count Laszlo de Almasy, burned and disfigured in a plane crash during the North Africa Campaign of WWII, who tells his story in flashbacks, involving a romantic affair, while being attended by Hana, a young Canadian nurse. He is believed to be English, but main his identity is revealed, little by little culminating in the great irony of the novel, he’s not English, but Hungarian… an “international bastard” who has spent most of his adult life wandering the desert. The 1996 film adaption featuring Ralph Fiennes as Almasy won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for the late Anthony Minghella.
Michael signed my sketch at the Royal Festival Hall when he arrived yesterday afternoon as part of the ‘Man Booker 50’ series of lectures, workshops and discussions over the weekend, prior to the announcement of the Golden Man Booker Prize last night.