The author acquaints herself with the work of Lydia Davis, the 2013 Man Booker International Prize winner.
“Sold out,” said staff at the counters of where I was on a book crawl both in London and Birmingham. It’s barely a week since the 2013 Man Booker International prize-winner was announced. Of the ten finalists I could confidently say I had read selected works of two, was aware of one, and none of these had won.
I was looking out for Lydia Davis’s work as she has brought the short story centre-stage. In a post technology era, Lydia Davis celebrates the human condition with wit, philosophy and daring in her The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. Ali Smith looks on her works “as mighty as Kaka, as subtle as Flaubert and as epoch-making as Proust.” Davis is also an acclaimed translator of Flaubert and Proust, and produced versions of the European classics in English. Sir Christopher Ricks, chairman of the Booker international panel commended Davis’ work “for the vigilance of her stories, her imaginative attention... and illusions of feeling.”
As a philosopher, Davis proceeds to examine as a first person narrator in her short story, ‘The Commandment’: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” This seems a plausible concept that is inherent in all systems of ethics. Then enters the ‘one person I know’ on whom the narrator tries to apply this principle, and discovers it does not work. While hostility is what this person pours out on other people, he certainly does not want any measure of that for himself from others and imagines that others are hostile toward him. In turning the principle on its head the system does not necessarily work, “So he is already doing unto those certain others as he would have them do unto him.” Her mastery is in creating the illusion and enabling the reader to read the truth.
As a punter who consumes Literature as an event in performing arts venues and revels in the actual inter-disciplinary nature of an audience, it was striking to see at the QEH bar a few empty seats; at least 800 were filled with an international and local audience. The short-listed were not ‘popular’ writers. Many of us readers who do not have access to a writer or work because we don’t know the language of origin, are able to cross continents of literature and sensibilities solely by the bridge of a good translation. A translator’s prize may be awarded if the selected work is not in English. Luckily, Davis didn’t have to settle for that.