First of all, 1700 pages is too long for a work of fiction. What prompted me to read ‘The Prize’ was a work of non-fiction by Irving Wallace called ‘The Writing of One Novel’ (you can read the review here) in which he described what went into writing this work of his. I must confess that if I had not known this, I probably would not have bothered reading Prize after a few pages. Apparently, a lot of the Nobel gossip that is littered throughout the Prize is true and were things he discovered during a magazine writing assignment in Stockholm. The politics around awarding of the Nobel Prizes was particularly fascinating. I am not sure how much of it is fact and how much fiction because I could not find the original essay that he wrote anywhere online while the only record of his scandalous discoveries are now in a work of fiction. Some of the ‘Nobel gossip’ include why the likes of Emile Zola, Leo Tolstoy, Henrik Ibsen, Marcel Proust, Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad, Maxim Gorki, Theodore Dreiser, and August Strindberg were never awarded the Nobel Prize for literature while relatively unknown names of the time like the French poet Sully Proudhomme and Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral were awarded the same; how some were not given the award because of their ‘perversions’ (how Wallace referred to their homosexuality) like Andre Gide (who was eventually given the Prize much later), and how certain others were overlooked because of their political stance like D’Annunzio, Benedetto Croce and Benito Perez Galdos, etc.
I tend to be one of those people who categorises books as popular, pulp and booker prize/Nobel worthy which is quite pretentious as Wallace argues in The Writing of One Novel. Wallace had described how much time and effort it took him to develop the characters and the research that went into doing a ‘conspiracy-theory-style’ build up from a week before awarding of the Nobel Prizes. While the criticism that Wallace has of critics who dismiss his works as ‘popular’ or ‘pulp’ rather than critique the content of his work is valid, but I found myself in agreement with some of the arguments of the critics. One is how he spends too much time on vulgar and explicit sex. I have no problem with sexy, but I felt that there was a thin line between perverted and sexy in his writings. However, Irving Wallace is a fantastic writer and that is evident in how he builds everyone of his characters upto the week before the award of the Nobel Prizes. I was curious to know how he would take up the task of explaining the backstory of at least 10-12 characters and hold the audience while there is not a clue about the plot until halfway through the book. The only other books I have read with so many lead characters is the Lord of the Rings Series, and the Harry Potter series. But those were written over several books and firmly in the fantasy genre. To write in depth about so many in a ‘real world of fiction’ is a challenging task and he does do justice to it. The work that went into it which he describes in his work of non-fiction clearly paid off.
As for the plot itself, the book picks up pace in the second half.