There were bigger Booker Prize parties in town last night — the publishers Atlantic, Canongate, Serpent’s Tail and Granta all banded together to host a giant one, for instance — but I was kindly invited to the winning one, hosted by Jonathan Cape, a division of the Random House Group.
Of course, when I made my way to Brydges Place — London's narrowest alley, near Trafalgar Square — and scuttled up the staircase to the private club in a Georgian townhouse at a little after 8pm, I didn't know it was going to be the winning party. Did anyone even think Julian Barne's novel, The Sense of an Ending, was going to win the Man Booker Prize after all the controversy this year's prize generated? (You'll note, I refrained from commenting on the hoo-ha — there were enough column inches, blog posts and God knows what else without me adding to the clamour.)
It has to be said that the party was, well, cliquey. I didn't know a soul.
There were a lot of people crammed into two smallish rooms (a third room was set aside for people to dump their bags and coats) and it didn't take long before the windows steamed up, it was so hot and stuffy. But there was plenty to drink — red wine and white wine, but you had to hunt down a waiter if you wanted a glass of water — and tray after tray of delicious canapes.
As time for the impending announcement drew near, the excitement became palpable. But sadly there was no TV in sight, but a radio, in the main room, was turned up loudly for everyone to hear — although it wasn't quite loud enough for those of us squished in the back.
What no one realised was that the radio announcement was a delayed broadcast. The winner had been revealed several minutes — possibly 10 minutes? — earlier. And in the funny way that the Brits don't like to cause a ruckus, most of the people standing around me had already found out the name of the winner via Twitter on their smartphones, but no one said a word. It was all hush-hush, with everyone pretending to strain to hear what the Man Booker chair Stella Rimmington was banging on about during her speech even though everyone must have been jumping out of their skin with excitement.
Our man had won!
When Barnes was named the winner — on the radio — the party erupted into cheers and riotous applause, but those few minutes between the Twitter news silently coming through on handheld devices and the party hearing it over the airwaves were quite surreal.
I had a lovely time and enjoyed the evening a lot. It was wonderful to finally meet the utterly charming Leo Benedictus, author of The Afterparty and Triple Choice Tuesday participant, and his editor. And as much as I enjoyed the champagne that began to flow after the winning announcement, I'm not sure my head agreed this morning when I had to get up and go to work! I suspect there were far worse cases than me, though — I was tucked up in bed by midnight, probably when the party was in full swing.
Oh, and if you are looking for my review of Julian Barnes' winning title, you'll have to wait a bit longer. The book has been sitting on my bedside table, unread, for months. How typical.