The Morning News

The Morning News Tournament of Books

The Tournament of Books is an annual battle royale between 16 of the best novels published in the previous year.

A new match is played here each weekday in March.

The 2009 ToB Contenders List

The 2009 Judges & Brackets

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Previous years: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

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judged by Monica Ali
Choosing between these two novels served to remind me that book prizes are such artificial contests. They don’t pit like against like. The only meaningful way to judge writing of this quality is against the ambitions of the writer—did he achieve what he set out to achieve?

Philip Hensher’s state-of-the-nation novel, set in the northern town of Sheffield in the 1970s and in London a decade or more later, is a joy to read, written in fluid, supple prose, full of social insight and sharp humour. Through two interconnecting family histories he dissects the anatomy of domestic life, skilfully and delicately spreading it out against its cultural and political context. Having grown up in the north of England in the 1970s it is a book to which I could readily relate. Perhaps it is only to counter my fear of northern bias that I have selected The Lazarus Project to go through to the next round.

Hemon’s double narrative, relating the 1908 killing of a young Jewish immigrant, Lazarus, by the Chicago chief of police and, a century later, the attempts by another Eastern European immigrant, a writer called Brik, to trace and understand Lazarus’s life and death, is endlessly inventive. Full of jokes, anecdotes, stories within stories, the narratives simultaneously unfolding and folding up on themselves, Hemon sets his ambitions high, reaches them and then some.

Today’s WINNER

The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon

About the Judge

Monica Ali is most recently the author of Alentejo Blue. Her previous novel, Brick Lane, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2003. Known connections to this year’s contenders: Hari Kunzru is a friend. I was at college with him. Joseph O'Neill I know, not well but through mutual acquaintance. I share an agent with Philip Hensher but have never met him.

From the Booth

Hemon is a terrific writer, so good that we should probably stop mentioning it. Kevin John We all seem to agree that The Northern Clemency hit the mark of its ambitions. We just disagree on the worth of those ambitions.
» Read Kevin Guilfoile & John Warner’s commentary on the match and leave a comment of your own «

The Peanut Gallery

Do you agree with the outcome of this match?

absolutely   no way