This year's Man Booker Prize has been plagued by accusations of 'dumbing down', or, as the illiterate goons hauled off the street to act as judges might put it, 'dummin' daaan'. Organisers have reacted angrily to the suggestion, saying pardon them for choosing books which people actually want to read rather than don't. And everything's subjective, anyway. How do I even know you exist outside my head? This could all be a dream. Have the nay-sayers got a point, or are they just being pretentious? I took a closer look at 2011's shortlist, to find out.
1. Spot Goes on Holiday: A powerful addition to Eric Hill's 'Spot the Dog' saga. Hill takes his characters out of their comfort zone, specifically to the beach. Hill's control of pace and tension is extraordinary -the suspense, at times, unbearable. A sequence in which Spot meets a cocker-spaniel, in particular, keeps you guessing. The cocker spaniel is portrayed in such a way as to to make you assume that he is an Al Quaeda terrorist (he is foreign). In a brilliant coup-de-theatre, however, he turns out to be quite nice, and Spot befriends him. I look forward to the author developing this relationship, and exploring the character of the cocker-spaniel more fully, over the course of subsequent installments.
2. Is It Just Me or is Everything Dogshit?: Perfect for fans of hard-hitting BBC documentary Grumpy Old Men. I found this a very compelling piece of investigative journalism. The authors fearlessly expose a number of sacred cows as actually being dogshit. Evil, war, cancer, and AIDs are finally shown in their true light, as utter dogshit. It was a well sustained piece of prose, and writing it definitely a worthwhile way for grown adults to spend their time. The publishers should not be ashamed of churning stuff like this out. They can quite sensibly point to the book's own title as a due warning.
3. The Argos Catalogue: A heartbreaking work, in which my mum never agrees to buy me that trampoline.
4. Mad Men Series 1-4 : It's refreshing to see literary prizes embrace new technologies. Why on earth shouldn't a DVD be on the shortlist? If anyone can come up with a rational argument, I'd be interested to hear it, but since I've already made up my mind, I wouldn't waste your breath. Why not use it to tell someone close to you how much you love them, instead? Trust me, you don't say it anywhere near enough. If I've learnt one thing from this wonderful book, it's the importance of letting people know you care. And that misogny and smoking are cool.
5. War and Peace : How anyone can accuse the Booker of dumbing down with this on the shortlist is beyond me. It's written in Russian, for pete's sake. The judges were suprised to discover it hadn't appeared on the shortlist before, and so was I. Previous judges missed a trick - a book this long adds a touch of class to any shortlist. Who's dumbing down now? I havent read the whole thing yet, if I'm perfectly honest. It's hard to find the time, but I'm looking forward to starting it soon. Probably, I'll read it on the way to the gym, which I'm definitely going to join, I was just in a rush yesterday, and forgot my proof of address. Or when I'm jogging, which is definitely something I'm about to get into any day now. Must remember to post that letter to my grandparents, too. The envelope's been sitting on my mantelpiece for weeks.
6. Margaret Thatcher - The Downing Street Years: Terrifying political thriller set in an alternate history of 1980s Britain. The country is ruled by a mad alien robot queen, who forces everyone to have awful haircuts. Her only weaknesses are an inability to turn and a massive alcohol problem. Although I enjoyed some of the surreal flights of fancy, the premise itself was a little implausible. The population of a civilised democracy would never be taken in by such a swivel-eyed old hag, and I just cannot believe people ever dressed like that.