On October 10, 2019, the Nobel Prize in Literature was announced. Being mired by controversy, the Swedish Academy didn’t award it last year. This year, the Academy honoured Olga Tokarczuk for the year 2018 and Peter Handke for 2019. (It is, however, undeniable that the Committee invited fresh criticism by awarding Handke, who according to Ed Vulliamy, a journalist who covered Yugoslav wars, “dishonours the victims of genocide.”)
The official announcement of the winners was presented by Mats Malm, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy. But apart from this real announcement, few know that about a hoax call that was made too.
Half an hour before the official announcement was made, John Banville, the Irish author won the Booker Prize in the year 2005 with The Sea, received a phone call from someone who was impersonating as Mats Malm and broke the news that Banville has won the coveted prize. Banville was given a choice to accept it for 2018 or 2019, and he says that he “believed it.”
“The call came from Stockholm, why would I not believe it?,” he told The Irish Times.
This convinced me that sometimes, fiction can turn into reality. Did the hoax caller read Miss Laila, Armed and Dangerous, and call John Banville to play a prank? It could either be to trick/tease Banville or to diminish the Swedish Academy’s prestige. Banville believes it’s the latter.
For those wondering how this is connected, in Banville’s novel, there’s a prankster, Akhila Iyer. In one of her pranks from the set of ‘Nobel Series,’ where she “fools the pious socialists into believing that they have been chosen for the peace Nobel,” she pranks P Sathya.
Two remarkable things happen when Iyer sets up the prank, along with three white men and two white women, and informs Sathya, “whose malady of interest is rural affairs,” writes Banville, to break the news that he has been chosen for the peace Nobel and asks whether he accepts it or not. Sathya believes them at once and begins to cry.
We don’t know if the latter happened in Banville’s case, but he indeed did believe them; and for nearly 45 minutes, made calls to near and dear ones and informed them of this announcement. Elated as anyone would be to win such an honour, he was excited to share this; but after seeing the live announcement, his daughter told him, “It’s not you.” (It almost felt like rereading Joseph’s novel when Sathya calls Iyer a “corporate bitch,” and she says, “No Nobel for you.”)
Realizing that this is a hoax call, although it was “very convincing” for him, he rang everyone and asked them not to “buy the champagne, [and] stop throwing your hats in the air.”
Banville has requested the Academy to investigate the matter; however, now he sees “some comedy in it and potential material: ‘The Man who nearly won the Nobel prize.'”
But the celebrated writer must be informed that this material has already been published. And that it indeed was funny; however, it was titled A Patriarch’s Review.