In a free state
I have just finished reading In a free state. It claims to be a novel with two supporting narratives, but it was quite plainly a novella padded out with two ropey short stories.
It won the Booker in 1971, which was a bit of a mockery because, frankly, it wasn't very good. Still, no doubt Naipaul deserved it for something, so no harm done, and it is written in his usual formally precise prose.
It got me to thinking, since it's Oscar weekend and all, about undeserved awards. And the notion of deserving them in the first place. How can you deserve one? How can you compete?
I'm talking as someone who not only has not seen all, or even most, of the films involved, but who believes as a matter of principle that Scarlett Johansson (is that too many Ss?) should win everything going on account of being a sort. (I know, I know. Shallow as fuck. Read that as "a fantastic actress" if you like, but who are we kidding? What are the criteria for being a fantastic actress? Correctly remembering your lines and looking good in a tight top... okay, okay, so I know nothing about films but a great deal about what I like to look at. I've never really understood what was good or bad acting, beyond being watchable and reasonably convincing. I mean, I never buy Meryl Streep as anything and yet, year after year, there she is, lauded, feted, awarded, serenaded. And Nicole Kidman? Please. She wore a big nose and fidgeted. You think Scarlett couldn't do that? I reckon Scarlett could fidget to beat the band. )
But Lord of the Rings, part three, was rank. Far too long, no narrative drive, and acting that would shame the actors in the local school's play. (Actually, that's rather unfair. If I cast my mind back to my tremendous skit, a reading of the Love Song of J. Arthur Prufrock as performed by Dr Frankenstein -- you had to have seen it, really, but suffice to say it involved a way too literal reading of the etherised patient part of the poem -- I believe I outhammed even Ian McKellen (I saw the cheeky git on Parky the other night -- lapping it up and claiming that he wanted to do a dame in panto -- why the fuck not? he seems to live it -- but that the hard part was, get this, getting into being a man pretending to be a woman before putting on the frock or some such. Sweetie, Dr Zen slips into women's clothing at the drop of a hat and he doesn't expect a BAFTA for best arse in women's panties -- although... another time.).)
But it'll probably win. The scope, daaahling. The grip on the narrative. (As if! There was no fucking narrative. The big problem with LotR is that it plods from setpiece to setpiece without the least drive whatsoever. The characters do not face conflict on a small scale -- everything is worldshatteringly existential, which after nine hours begins to drag.) The amount of money he spent.
It does seem we like to reward the big effort -- the concept. Look at how the Darkness are praised. No one dares whisper that the Emperor is playing dodgy heavy metal.