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Brainy, sexy and starbursts

In Brainy and Sexy I was discussing the interesting trickiness of trying to write novels that engage both the story-loving heart and the idea-loving head. And now the whole question's come alive again for me because it's just been announced that The Mathematics of Love has been long-listed for Le Prince Maurice Award, given for (alternately English and French) 'romans d'amour', which usually translates as literary love stories.

As well as being very, very thrilled - it's TMoL's fourth prize listing, but I rather thought I'd had all the high-profile fun there was to be had with it - I also really like what Tim Lott, the founder, said to The Guardian of the reasoning behind the prize:

'I'm very much a writer of the heart myself, rather than a writer of the head... It is an instinctual - but valid - way of writing, but many literary prizes are prejudiced against those who have the skill to capture emotional rather than intellectual realities. The Booker, for example, rewards technical ability, but neglects humour and love stories.'

I haven't read enough Booker winners, let alone with a statistical pair of glasses on, to be able to agree or disagree with that. But it does seem to me that the usual binary opposition that gets discussed, between literary and commercial, doesn't explain the half of the possibilities of good fiction. Depending on whether the speaker's snobberies are inverted or the normal way up, the range is always discussed as if it's a single line from life-enhancing originality to trite pap for the celeb-obsessed masses, or from up-its-own-arse clever-cleverness to good, honest storytelling that sells because it's what real people want to read.

All together now, those who've been reading this blog for a while: It's not as simple as that! Where, in that range, are emotional, practical, synthetising (as opposed to analysing), mystical or non-verbal intelligences? Just as people aren't simply either clever or stupid, whatever the IQ merchants would have you believe, so books needn't be either dry-as-dust clever or warm-heartedly stupid. It isn't just a spectrum: good books relate to each other like a starburst, not a line-up, some closer to others, some far-flung, and their different intelligences combine words and ideas and feelings differently, to fill the literary sky with fireworks.

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