May 10

Channelling George Orwell

The last time I attended the award ceremony for the George Orwell Prize some years back, the party was in a small room and seemed to be attended by 19 people, most of whom worked for the New Statesman. Since then, the prize and the party have grown and there are now three prizes: for a book, journalism and a blog.

But the unexpected thrill of the evening lay in the homage to Orwell’s cantakerous and contra-suggestive spirit. The judges refused to be either predictable or politically correct. They gave the journalism prize not to the (excellent) people from The Guardian or The Times but to Peter Hitchens for his pieces of long reportage for the Mail on Sunday. The judges for that category – in case you were thinking that Orwell’s heirs had managed to smuggle neocons onto the jury – were the film-maker Roger Graef and the pollster and journalist Peter Kellner. As well-qualified a pair of establishment liberals as you could hope to find.

The blog prize went to Winston Smith for a blog called Working With the Underclass. I’ve never looked at it but I will now. Aspirant prizewinners will now be mining Orwell’s novels for noms-de-plume with the right ring to appeal to next year’s judges. And the book prize went not to books on international or political topics but to Keeper by Andrea Gillies, a memoir of dealing with Alzheimers. The subtitle “A book about memory, identity, isolation, Wordsworth and cake” probably catches the flavour.

Almost certainly everyone on the shortlists is worth reading and they can be found here. I bought four of the six shortlisted books afterwards and look forward to them all.

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