Stockholm | Barely out of a bad patch that has tarnished one of the most famous prizes in the world, the Nobel for Literature is awarded Thursday in Stockholm, but the calmer tone of the new chapter remains to be confirmed.
The betting sites place the French Maryse Condé, the Russian Lioudmila Oulitskaïa, the Canadian Margaret Atwood or the Japanese Haruki Murakami as favorites.
Literary critics polled by AFP lean more towards the American-Caribbean Jamaïca Kincaid, the Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the Canadian poet Anne Carson, the American Thomas Pynchon or the French Michel Houellebecq.
But everyone agrees that the price is very difficult to predict this year. Will the Swedish Academy, upset by criticism, choose a more consensual winner? More original? Or will it dig its furrow, where European writers are over-represented, five out of six of its latest awards?
The institution, which awards its 113th Nobel Thursday at 1 p.m. (11 a.m. GMT), keeps the votes of its 18 members secret until the last moment. And no name in the running is ever confirmed until the records are lifted … fifty years later.
Only to be able to compete with that of peace for the title of most famous of the Nobel, the price of literature struggles to emerge from one of the most troubled periods of its history, however long and eventful.
At the end of 2017, the Swedish Academy had been undermined by dissensions over how to handle the charges against a Frenchman, Jean-Claude Arnault, husband of an academician and influential figure in the Swedish cultural scene, since convicted of rape.
From #metoo to Handke
The scandal had torn the institution apart in the midst of the #MeToo cataclysm, throwing a harsh light on the backstage of an academy plagued by intrigue, and shaking the Nobels and even the image of a Sweden champion of transparency, probity, modernity and equality.
Trembling on its foundations, the temple of letters had to postpone the 2018 price, unheard of since the war.
Barely enough time to get out of the water that he had plunged head first into it, rewarding in October 2019 the Austrian writer Peter Handke, with the sulphurous pro-Milosevic positions.
The jury had stood firm, claiming to have judged exclusively the work and not the man. But in the face of this storm, the debates on the truly literary nature of Bob Dylan’s work – the surprise winner in 2016 – were but few things.
The Academy anyway preferred the shadow candidates to the celebrities.
Big names like Murakami or the Franco-Czech Milan Kundera have circulated in vain in the past, taking over from the American Philip Roth, who died in 2018 without a Nobel. Another bestselling author in the Predictions this year: British spy novel master John Le Carré.
Albanian Ismaïl Kadaré, Romanian Mircea Cartarescu, Hungarians Peter Nadas or Laszlo Krasznahorkai or Croatian Dubravska Ugresic could complete the triumph of “Mitteleuropa” last year. Newcomer also in the prognoses: the British Hilary Mantel and her historical novels. Closer to Stockholm, the Danish Pia Tafdrup or the Norwegian Jon Fosse are also mentioned.
The Americans Joyce Carol Oates, Joan Didion, Louise Glück or Marilynne Robinson, the Canadian Margaret Atwood or the Israeli David Grossman could benefit from an extra-European adventure.
The South Korean poet Ko Un, would promise him yet another controversy: the former Buddhist monk, cited as nobelist for years, fell out of favor after accusations of sexual touching, again in the wake of #Metoo.
A non-European woman?
2020, the year of women? With three laureates at the Nobel Scientific, this season is on time to beat the record of female laureates (five in 2009), while peace on Friday and the economy on Monday remain to be awarded.
In the ranking by country, France is in the lead for literature, with 15 laureates, including the first, the forgotten Sully Prudhomme, or giants like Camus (1957) or Sartre, the only writer to have refused it of his own accord. , in 1964.
Six years after Modiano, and twelve after Le Clézio, critics would see Michel Houellebecq or the Guadeloupean Maryse Condé being crowned in Sweden.
The language of Molière, on the other hand, is preceded by that of Shakespeare, with 29 award-winning English-speaking authors. The United States, United Kingdom and Germany are the other countries with the highest awards.
Large countries like China (Mo Yan in 2012) and India (Rabindranath Tagore in 1913), or Brazil (no winner) are under-represented. The Chinese Yan Lianke is regularly cited among the nobelists.
The 2020 edition is deprived for the first time since 1944 of an award ceremony with the winners – due to coronavirus. A good opportunity to crown an author fleeing the spotlight, some speculate.