First Yann Martel won the 2002 Booker Prize for Life of Pi and was accused of plagiarizing a novella by Brazilian writer Moacyr Scliar. Evidently the concept of a boy adrift on a raft with a big cat as his companion is used in both books. To his credit, Martel admits he read a review of Scliar’s book Max and the Cats in 1990, thought the premise to be interesting and filed the idea away for later refinement. Is copying a concept plagiarising? Martel, of course, says ‘no’, but Scliar will have to read Martel’s book to be certain.
Next Austin Clarke, thought to be an also-ran for the Giller Prize, wins the award with his novel The Polished Hoe amid surprise and shock in the literary community. Evidently a lot of people, among them BookTelevision host Daniel Richler, did not simply dislike the book, they intensely disliked it. Some people are calling the choice a politically correct decision but others, pointing to the personalities of the 2002 jurors, are saying that’s nonsense.
Justified controversy or no, all this talk can only be good for Canadian literature.