Saturday, November 12, 2005

A Judge's Journal, Part 2

Who has time to worry about football? I've brought home a small stack of books requiring brief reviews--the new Shani Mootoo, a gothic novel by a young Jamaican named Marlon James, new collected editions of Nicolás Guillén & Edouard Glissant--& must start some serious reading-up for a Lloyd Best profile due in a few weeks, plus I have a month-end deadline for a Guyana Arts Journal essay. And then I glance at the calendar & realise the date for deciding the winner of the Derek Walcott Prize for Fiction is within arm's reach, & the box of typescripts sits beside my desk barely touched.

A couple of weeks ago the two other judges--Ken Ramchand & Marjorie Thorpe--& I worked out a system for dividing the labour of reading the eight novels so as to reduce the shortlist to a shorter-list. The first novel I tackled begins with a boy adopting a stray dog. In the opening pages the sex of the dog changes several times--he, she, he, she--entirely due to the author's oversight, as far as I can make out. I'm so distracted by this that I manage to temporarily lose the typescript in the El Tucuche of papers that rises vertiginously from my desk.

I bring the second novel home in its manila envelope & it quietly settles against a bookcase, where its neighbours are paperback volumes on the Reformation & Wedgewood's Thirty Years War.

This morning, as I sip from my cup of the hot & most strengthening, my eye falls on a note scribbled in my datebook, & a cold ping of fear races from brain to heart to spine. Surely the other judges have not merely read their allotted novels by now, but also turned out a concise, lucid, & witty precis of each?

I ring Ramchand, the head judge. He is cleverly vague about whether he's done his reading or not. Our respective tones of voice seem to commiserate about packed schedules. We agree that another week should be enough to plough through the remaining reams of prose, & decide to meet next Saturday morning.

Nothing for it but tea, a comfortable chair, & strong light.

(And by coincidence I hear today that Walcott--whose watercolours are well known to his readers from dustjackets & the plates in Tiepolo's Hound--is about to have the first New York show of his paintings, at the June Kelly Gallery, 18 November to 30 December.)

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