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This article is taken from PN Review 28, Volume 9 Number 2, November - December 1982.

The Other Canetti John Pilling

FIRST Elytis, then Milosz, then Canetti; for the third time in as many years the world's most prestigious literary prize has been awarded to a writer who is little more than a name to the bulk of the English reading public. The relief of those who finance the Booker, Whitbread, Rhys Llewellyn and other prizes is almost audible, and the apologists of Graham Greene are as vocal as ever. Indeed, if it were not for the inevitable flurry on the part of his publishers, one might almost be forgiven for thinking that Canetti was receding into the background from which he had recently emerged, with Midnight's Children still leading the field and Auto da fé, despite Rushdie's recent recommendation of it in the Listener and on radio, among the also-rans. Better no Nobel Prize, some may feel, than one won by proxy, awarded to a writer of Balkan provenance who happens to have lived for forty years in Hampstead. Yet Canetti, as those who have read him will concur, is no less worthy a Nobel laureate than Milosz and Elytis before him, and his posterity, minimal though it might seem at this moment in time, may well outlast theirs.

Canetti begins, so far as a mass readership is concerned, with the inestimable advantage over Milosz and Elytis that his favoured medium is prose rather than poetry. If poetry really is 'what gets lost in translation', more of Canetti may be saved than of Elytis and (without in ...


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