The Daily Telegraph

Queen Consort mixes with pop royalty at Booker Prize ceremony

Sri Lankan author takes top award at event that was redesigned to attract a younger audience


JULIAN BARNES once likened the Booker Prize to posh bingo. Attendees at this year’s ceremony may have found it more akin to the Royal Variety Performanc­e.

The Queen Consort, a long-term supporter of the prize, made her customary appearance last night to present the award, which went to Shehan Karunatila­ka for The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida.

But in a move designed to bring the Booker’s shortlist to a younger audience, pop singer Dua Lipa delivered a speech on how a love of reading had shaped her career.

Lipa hosts her own podcast, At Your Service, in which she interviews people from the worlds of fashion, music, literature and activism.

The evening was hosted by Sophie Duker, a comedian whose debut standup show was called Diet Woke, and the event moved from the City of London’s Guildhall to the Roundhouse in Camden, an arts and music venue.

Explaining the changes, Gaby Wood, director of the Booker Prize Foundation, said: “Our sense is that the Booker Prize is a living thing, and while not every book will be for everyone, any of these books will be for anyone.

“In order to say that, you really need to try and make sure people do think it’s for them – books and reading.”

A spokesman for the prize said that “the ambition is to create a vibrant evening with entertainm­ent from across the cultural spectrum”.

In her speech, Lipa credited books by Ismail Kadare, who won the inaugural Internatio­nal Booker Prize, for connecting her to her family’s Kosovo Albanian heritage.

She added: “Touring commitment­s take me all over the globe and life is often hectic. Sometimes, just to survive, I need to adopt a tough exterior.

“And, at these times, it is books that soften me.”

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is a darkly comic take on the civil war in the author’s native Sri Lanka. This is

Karunatila­ka’s second novel. His first,

Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, was rated as “the second greatest cricket book of all time” by Wisden.

Neil Macgregor, chairman of the Booker judges, said of the winning novel: “We chose it because we admired enormously the ambition and the scope and the skill, the daring, the audacity and the hilarity of the execution.

“It is a book that takes the reader on a roller coaster journey.”

Karunatila­ka, 47, is the second Sri Lankan-born author to win the Booker, following Michael Ondaatje’s win with

The English Patient in 1992.

The book is published by Sort Of Books, a small independen­t press run by Mark Ellingham and Natania Jansz, founders of the Rough Guide travel series. They set up the company in 1999 to help their friend, Chris Stewart, launch his debut book, Driving Over Lemons.

They also publish a number of books by Tove Jansson, creator of the Moomins. The company is so small that the Booker Prize Foundation contribute­d to the cost of flying Karunatila­ka over from Sri Lanka. Another shortliste­d author published by a small press, Usbased Percival Everett, also received assistance.

Ms Wood said: “We are contributi­ng to the travel for two of the shortliste­es who are coming from afar and who are published by the small presses, for whom cash flow is an issue.”

Although Karunatila­ka’s book is set during the Sri Lankan civil war in 1989 – which he described as “a time of assassinat­ions, disappeara­nces, bombs and corpses” – it is laced with humour.

The author explained: “Despite having a grim history and a troubled present, Sri Lanka is not a dour or depressing place. We specialise in gallows humour and make jokes in the face of our crises. Laughter is clearly our coping mechanism.”

The other shortliste­d books were The Trees by Everett, Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout, Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, and Treacle Walker by Alan Garner.

The ceremony featured tributes to Sir Salman Rushdie, who is recovering after being attacked in New York in August, and Dame Hilary Mantel, who died last month.

 ?? ?? The Queen Consort and Dua Lipa both attended last night’s Booker Prize event
The Queen Consort and Dua Lipa both attended last night’s Booker Prize event

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