Friday, March 06, 2015


The Prize, Irving Wallace, Simon and Schuster, 1962, 761 pp

Irving Wallace's novel about the Nobel Prize was the #8 bestselling book in 1962. It took him over a decade to research and write. Unfortunately his research lays too heavily within the story and made the book overly long.

I could say that I got quite an education about the prizes but I would rather have looked all that up on Wikipedia and then enjoyed the story. Of course, Wikipedia did not exist in 1962.

By following the stories of six fictional Nobel winners, their associated wives or relatives, and some members of the Academy, he wove a pretty good tale. Each winner, whether scientist or writer, comes to Stockholm for Nobel week with personal baggage, vulnerable in different ways to the politics of the Nobel committees, to the press, and even to the world events of the times.

Though Wallace's characters are as much types as they are people, he gives each enough substance so that the reader becomes involved and participates emotionally in their changes. Of course, there are various romances spiced up with explicit sex (apparently Wallace is famous for that) but to his credit he makes of sex something seamless with the rest of life rather than sensational. He is clearly not in agreement with Puritanical views about its evilness.

Whenever he wrote about the trials and activities of the characters the story raced along. The historical bits, the travelogue style about visits to Stockholm's landmarks, and his descriptions of architecture, furnishings, restaurant meals and routes through the city were beyond boring. Unless you like that sort of thing, skimming is recommended.

In the end, he presents a balanced picture of the behind the scenes selections of the winners, the idiocy of such awards, as well as the positive effects on both the world and the winners due to recognition of great scientific work and literature.

I think the prize itself has been overshadowed by the many pop culture awards we have now, but I was still thrilled in recent years when Toni Morrison and Doris Lessing won. For me, the book was worth the read.

( The Prize is out of print, available as an ebook from certain on-line sellers, and in paperback from used book sellers. I found a hardback copy at my local library.)

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