x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Nobel prize for Literature picks often defy best speculation

There is a certain sport in trying to decide who will walk away with a Nobel Prize for Literature.

This time last year, excitable literary commentators suggested the Syrian poet Adonis was on the verge of becoming only the second writer in Arabic to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. The stars did appear to be aligning in his favour; not only did the 81-year-old have a wonderful new collection of his work available in English, but the Arab Spring was refocusing interest in the literature of the Middle East.

And then the Swedish Academy awarded it to, er, a Swedish poet. The bestowal of the sought-after medal to Tomas Transtromer immediately confirmed the suspicion that when it comes to the Nobel Prize, it's wise not to pay too much attention to predictions. After all, there is no public shortlist and the nominations are kept secret for a staggering 50 years.

Still, there is a certain sport in trying to second guess who, this evening, will join the likes of Mario Vargas Llosa, JM Coetzee and VS Naipaul as Nobel Laureates.

This year, the early favourite is the hugely popular Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, whose latest fantasy novel IQ84 was described as "profoundly affecting" by The National.

He is, however, possibly an overly populist and indeed youthful (at only 63) choice for an Academy not adverse to overlooking regular calls for Bob Dylan to be recognised (nevertheless, he's still sixth favourite). By that rationale, the Irish short story writer William Trevor, 84, is a safer pick, not least because he's not hugely well known outside of the literary prize circle, unlike another virtuoso of the short story form also among the favourites, the Canadian Alice Munro.

Munro is also 81, and the sense that the Nobel Prize tends to recognise writing lives well lived is possibly why Adonis is still among the top dozen said to be vying for the award. Whoever wins, it's encouraging that only four of the 21st-century laureates write in English - secretive and baffling the prize may be, but it's not prone to favouring anglophone writing, as the backing of the Chinese writer Mo Yan, Hungarian Peter Nadas and Dutchman Cees Nooteboom this year also suggests.

All will be revealed today. For the real story, however, you might just have to wait 50 years.