In Australia the Man Booker prize is seen as something of a chicken raffle. I just didn’t expect to end up being the chicken.
I do not come out of a literary tradition. I come from a tiny mining town in the rainforest in an island at the end of the world. My grandparents were illiterate. And I never expected to stand here before you in this grand hall in London as a writer being so honoured.
I do not share the pessimism of the age about the novel. They are one of our greatest spiritual, aesthetic and intellectual inventions. As a species it is story that distinguishes us, and one of the supreme expressions of story is the novel. Novels are not content. Nor are they are a mirror to life or an explanation of life or a guide to life.
Novels are life, or they are nothing.
I thank the judges for choosing my book from such an illustrious list. It is the greatest honour. I thank my English publisher Clara Farmer and all her team at Chatto.
And I particularly want to thank two remarkable women sitting at my table. One is my beloved Majda. To be a writer is to journey into humility. It is to be defeated by ever greater things. In this rare moment of success I am glad to share it with Majda, who has travelled with me through many dark times over 30 years with love, with grace, with serene dignity, and always kept me standing.
The other is Nikki Christer, my publisher at Random House Australia, dear friend, and an editor of rare genius who has been my collaborator of nearly 20 years. She is the Motown publisher, who cracked me and so many other Australian writers out of the literary ghetto and took us to a mass audience. Making books, including The Narrow Road, with someone of Nikki’s gifts, has been one of the great creative joys of my life.
Finally, life, like novels, confounds us. The fractious tribe of writers is not readily given to fraternity. But I was honoured to be a writer amongst the writers on this short list. I said to Howard [Jacobson] last night that there was a good argument to be made for any of the shortlisted books being the winner. And there is.
I hope readers remember 2014’s Man Booker prize not for my book alone, but for the formidable strength of its shortlist of which I am proud to be part. Josh, Karen, Howard, Neel and Ali, I see tonight as not mine, but ours. Thank you.