September 5, 2013

A Gambler’s Guide to the Nobel Prize 2013: Murakami to Win


For the second year in a row now, Haruki Murakami has emerged as the favorite to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, having been a frontrunner for the past decade. The British gaming company Ladbrokes puts him at 3/1, followed by Joyce Carol Oates at 6/1 and Peter Nádas at 7/1. Unfortunately the Swedish Academy doesn’t give an eager gambler much help.

After the winner is announced in October, records of all judicial deliberations—including the list of five finalists—are sealed for fifty years. Meaning all a gambler has to go on is past winners. The prize is awarded to “the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” Another requirement would seem to be that the author prompt your average American reading enthusiast to ask, “Wait, who?”

Murakami doesn’t meet this requirement. His most recent novel has generated the kind of international fervor that Mo Yan can only dream about, dreams being as yet uncensored in China. Bob Dylan was the favorite in 2011, his odds climbing from 100/1 to 10/1 in a 24-hour period, but he doesn’t meet the American-say-“Who?” requirement either.  Remember when he won the Nobel Prize? Yeah, neither do I.

And if you were getting your hopes up about Joyce Carol Oates, don’t. The secretary of the Nobel Prize jury, Horace Engdahl, isn’t a big fan of American writing. In 2008, he stated:

Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can’t get away from the fact that Europe still is the centre of the literary world … not the United States. The US is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining.

Your best bet this fall? Not the bookie favorite—it’s a sure thing.

Abigail Grace Murdy is a former Melville House intern.