Friday, February 10, 2006

Deep Purple by Mayra Montero

Review of Mayra Montero's Deep Purple

There is a profusion of awards in the current literary marketplace, many of them little known. In terms of publicity, there are only a few that attract the attention of the general public. These are the Nobel Prize for Literature, which has the advantage of the Nobel "brand" and association with the inevitable controversy over the winner of its sibling award for "Peace"; the Pulitzer Prize, which is awarded in the largest market for English-language literature and also has well-established brand recognition; and England’s Man Booker Prize (known usually, no doubt to the distress of its new sponsor, just as the "Booker"), which generates an extraordinary amount of international coverage - even in the United States, whose writers are just about the only ones in the world not eligible.
Smaller awards such as the Sonrisa Vertical and the Bellwether Prize may never get the attention of the general media, but they do serve a useful function. Of course, there’s the prize money - always welcome to a struggling author - but more importantly, they provide an imprimatur of quality, marking the work as an outstanding representative of a particular type. The Book of Dead Birds won the Bellwether Prize before publication, so is able to advertise the fact on its dustcover, along with an approving quote from Barbara King solver attesting to the lyricism and intelligence of the book. For those unfamiliar with the prize, the flap informs the browsing book-buyer that the Bellwether is awarded to a work that "displays social responsibility," indicating something of Brandeis’ subject matter.
The prize won by Mayra Montero’s Deep Purple, however, is well outside the bounds of "social responsibility." The Sonrisa Vertical (its amusing name means "Vertical Smile") is a Spanish international prize for erotic fiction, won by Montero after the initial publication of Púrpura profunda in 2000. However, the prize is not advertised on the dustcover of the novel, which prefers to quote praise for her earlier works from the "quality press," including the New York Times Book Review and The New Yorker. This strategy of not mentioning an award may be a move by the publishers to avoid any taint of a "lesser genre" - particularly erotic fiction - and instead promote the intellectual and literary qualities of the work. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time an author was slightly embarrassed about an endorsement; witness Jonathan Franzen’s famous reaction to his selection in Oprah’s Book Club.

You can find the full review here

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