Malouf wins first Impac literary award

 

IT was no coincidence that the Australian novelist David Malouf was presented with the inaugural Impac Dublin £100,000 International Literary Award on the eve of Bloomsday.

The presentation dinner held at Dublin Castle on Saturday night was deliberately intended as a celebration, not only of Malouf's beautiful and profound novel, the 1993 Booker contender Remembering Babylon, but also as an opportunity to celebrate Dublin's literary legacy and the award's status as the largest on offer to a single work of fiction.

As the guests made their way, into the courtyard of the castle, the band of the Dublin Fire Brigade performed in the late evening sunshine. "He looks like that English politician who writes those bestseller things. Archer," observed a woman to her companion who quickly confirmed: "That is Jeffrey Archer."

There were a number of far more enigmatic costumed characters intended to represent Irish writers. Whereas Joyce and Shaw were easy to identify and Bram Stoker was depicted through the sinister persona of Count Dracula, some of the others were less instantly recognisable.

Was the man dressed in a long black wig Sheridan? He certainly didn't resemble Swift. An Elizabethan page had been nominated to carry a giant copy of Remembering Babylon. Few present had ever previously witnessed a pageant quite like it.

Inside, the 400 diners sat at formal tables. Each place setting had a paperback copy of Malouf's winning book. A string quartet played. Throughout the speeches much was made of the monetary size of the prize.

Lord Archer felt some of those present needed to have the reason for the evening explained, so the promotional video featuring footage of Shaw wishing he were still alive to be able to benefit from the prize was screened.

Gay Mitchell who had devised the idea of a Dublin literary award recalled how it became a reality, before reiterating his belief in Dublin hosting the Olympics.

Impac also decided to honour Malouf's publisher, Chatto and Windus, part of the giant US Random House conglomerate. As midnight approached, David Malouf spoke of his novel, "sleeping there on the table before each of you" and said a book comes to life through its reader.

One of Australia's most internationally distinguished writers since the publication of his second novel An Imaginary Life in 1978, Malouf reminded those present of exactly how much time goes into the emergence of a novel.

He completed Remembering Babylon "over four years ago". Delighted with winning, he seemed to regard his novel as an old friend he had not seen for a while.