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Michel Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient, first published in 1992, has won the Golden Booker, the accolade voted for by the public to nominate ‘the best’ winner of the prize since its creation 50 years ago.
Speaking at the ManBooker 50 Festival at the Southbank Centre in London he said: “Not for a second do I believe this is the best book on the list, especially when it is placed beside a work by VS Naipaul, one of the masters of our time, or a major work like Wolf Hall,” he said, adding: “I suspect and know more than anyone that perhaps The English Patient is still cloudy, with errors in pacing.”
Writers were asked to nominate a Man Booker winner from each decade. The Observer’s Literary Editor Robert McCrum, chose VS Naipaul’s In a Free State for the 1970s; poet Lemn Sissay chose Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger for the Eighties; The English Patient was novelist Kamila Shamsie’s selection for the 1990s; Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall was nominated as the best of the 2000s by broadcaster Simon Mayo, and George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo was chosen by poet Hollie McNish from the 2010s Booker winners. The five books were then put to a public vote.
Shamsie described The English Patient as the sort of book that “gets under your skin and insists you return to it time and again, always yielding a new surprise or delight. Few novels really deserve the praise: transformative. This one does. It moves seamlessly between the epic and the intimate – one moment you’re in looking at the vast sweep of the desert, and the next moment watching a nurse place a piece of plum in a patient’s mouth … It’s intricately and rewardingly structured, beautifully written, with great humanity written into every page.”
The book follows four dissimilar people brought together at an Italian villa during the Italian Campaign for World War II. The novel was famously filmed in 1996, with the city of Tunis standing in for Cairo. Much of it was shot the mountain oasis of Tamerza, part of the Djebel en Negueb range, an off-shoot of the Atlas Mountains.