THE chairman of the Man Booker prize yesterday admitted that it was unlikely that judges would read all 130 books in contention for this October’s £50,000 prize.
John Sutherland, an emeritus professor of English at the University of London, said: "It takes six or seven hours to read a novel, and a judge is being paid about 3,000. You don’t have to have read the whole thing to know it doesn’t qualify."
His comments provide the Man Booker with its first whiff of controversy of the year and reopen the question of whether a literary prize can only be judged if all the books submitted are read by the judges cover to cover.
In 2002, AL Kennedy caused a major literary stushie when she declared that she was the only judge on the 1996 Booker panel who had read all of the 300 novels submitted for their consideration.
Other literary prizes have also been plagued by allegations that the judges do not read the books submitted to them.
But Dr Sharon Norris, an Open University lecturer who specialises in literary prizes, said: "It might be embarrassing for the organisers, but he’s an experienced judge and he’s telling the truth.
"The only thing that surprises me is that he’s come out and said it."
Jenny Brown, a literary agent, said that if the judges had to cover as many as 120 novels, a certain amount of skip-reading was inevitable.