“I never expected to stand here before you in this grand hall in London as a writer being so honoured,” said Australian writer Richard Flanagan, the winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize in his acceptance speech at the Booker reception held in Guildhall on Tuesday.
“In Australia the Man Booker Prize is seen as something of a chicken raffle. I just didn’t expect to end up being the chicken,” he said. He thanked the judges for choosing his book from an “illustrious list” of writers of “formidable strength”.
“I do not come out of a literary tradition,” said Mr. Flanagan. “I come from a tiny mining town in the rainforest in an island at the end of the world. My grandparents were illiterate.”
Describing the hard journey that is the life of a writer, he said, “To be a writer is to journey into humility. It is to be defeated by ever greater things.”
The Tasmanian-born writer is the third Australian to win the prize, and the first since the prize extended to include writers from all countries and not just the Commonwealth.
Describing the book as “a magnificent novel of love and war,” AC Grayling, Chair of judges, who announced the award, said it was the book “Richard Flanagan was born to write.” Mr. Flanagan was presented with a trophy from the Duchess of Cornwall and a £ 50,000 cheque from Emmanuel Roman, Chief Executive of the Man Group, which sponsors the prize.
Named after a travelogue of the same name by Basho, the celebrated 17th Japanese Haiku poet, the book is Mr. Flanagan’s sixth, and is drawn from the experiences of Mr. Flanagan’s father, who was a Japanese prisoner of war, who worked on the construction of the Thailand-Burma ‘Death’ Railway. He died on the day that his son sent his manuscript to his publishers. The book is about the experiences of Dorrigo Evans, a surgeon who works in a Japanese prisoner of war camp on the ‘Death’ Railway.
Mr. Flanagan said that writing the book was a “cathartic” experience, but that it was “the book I had to write in order to keep on writing.” The prize money, he said in response to a question, would allow him to continue to be a writer. “I am not a wealthy man,” he said. “Two years ago, when I finished this book I was contemplating to look at what work I could get in the mines in far northern Australia because things had come to such a pass, and I had spent so long writing this book.”
Mr. Flanagan said that he did not “share the pessimism” of those who believed that the advancement in technology portends the death of literature and the novel. “They are one of our greatest spiritual, aesthetic and intellectual inventions,” he said. “As a species it is story that distinguishes us, and one of the supreme expressions of story is the novel. Novels are not content. Nor are they are a mirror to life or an explanation of life or a guide to life. Novels are life, or they are nothing.”