The crown of Midnight's Children

Rushdie Best of the Bookers

For the second time, Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie has been judged the best ever winner of the Booker prize. The Best of Booker award, which has been announced at the London literature festival this afternoon, marks the prize's 40th anniversary. A similar contest - the Booker of Bookers - was held in 1993 to coincide with its 25th birthday, and came to the same conclusion.
Rushdie is currently in Chicago, promoting his latest novel The Enchantress of Florence, and appeared at the ceremony via videomessage. "I have to say this is just a marvellous moment for me and for Midnight's Children ... I'm slightly lost for words which usually I'm not," he said. The recently knighted author's sons Zafar and Milan accepted the trophy, which is the award's only immediate reward (although considerable additional sales can be confidently expected to follow). "I think there's something rather wonderful about my real children accepting a prize for my imaginary children," said Rushdie.
Midnight's Children is a teeming fable of postcolonial India, told in magical-realist fashion by a telepathic hero born at the stroke of midnight on the day the country became independent. First published in 1981, it was met with little immediate excitement. It was an unexpected winner, but went on to garner critical and popular acclaim around the world. The novel's popularity, very unusually for a literary award, is what has secured the prize, having been picked from the shortlist by an online public vote that drew just over 7,800 votes. The shortlist itself was selected by a panel of judges - the biographer, novelist and critic Victoria Glendinning; writer and broadcaster Mariella Frostrup, and John Mullan, professor of English at University College London.
As well as securing a welcome boost for Rushdie and the other shortlisted authors, John Mullan argued that the honour was a different kind of accolade to the annual award because of its longer view.
"The Booker is usually a marker of 'this year's thing'," he said. "The contenders for the Best of Booker stretched back almost half a century. It means that we were able to look at books that seem likely to endure because of their inherent qualities, as opposed to 'catching the zeitgeist'."
The Booker - which aims to reward the best novel in English by a writer from Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth - has established itself as this country's most influential literary honour. But Mullan was more cautious about whether this award amounts to being declared the very best English novel of the last 40 years.
"The annual Booker winners weren't necessarily the best novels published that year," he explained. "One or two novelists have won for novels which weren't their best."
Glendinning, who chaired the panel, said that "the readers have spoken - in their thousands. And we do believe that they have made the right choice." But her comments fell a little short of the enthusiasm for Midnight's Children on the Booker website, where one voter wrote that "maybe only Shakespeare can top this sort of genius".
AUDIO: Salman Rushdie talks to Stuart Jeffries
BLOG: They picked the right winner
IN PICTURES: The life of Salman Rushdie
REVIEW: Read the original Guardian review (PDF)
EXCERPT: Read an extract from Midnight's Children


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