The one-off award, voted for by the public, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Man Booker prize. The shortlist of five novels was selected by a panel of judges from the 51 previous winners of the Man Booker, which honours the best novels written in English and published in Britain or Ireland.
“The English Patient is a compelling work of fiction — both poetic and philosophical,” Baroness Helena Kennedy, chair of the Booker Prize Foundation, said in a statement. “As we celebrate the prize’s 50th anniversary, it’s a testament to the impact and legacy of the Man Booker Prize that all of the winning books are still in print.”
Born in 1943 in Sri Lanka, when it was known as Ceylon, Ondaatje now lives in Canada. “The English Patient,” which follows the lives of four characters brought together during World War II, told through the morphine-affected memories of a severely burned patient, was a Booker Prize winner in 1992.
In a review in The New York Times, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt wrote: “Reading ‘The English Patient,’ you hold on to the gunnel and your hat at the start. But by the end you find yourself resting on the bottom of the boat, with your hat over your face to keep off Ondaatje’s too brilliant prose.” The film adaptation, starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Ralph Fiennes, won nine Academy Awards in 1997, including Best Picture.
Each of the judges for the Golden Man Booker Prize was allocated a decade from the prize’s history and tasked with selecting the best work from it. The public then voted on this shortlist.
Last year’s winner, “Lincoln in the Bardo,” by George Saunders, was selected by the poet Hollie McNish. Simon Mayo, a novelist and broadcaster, chose the 2009 prize winner “Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel. The poet Lemn Sissay picked “Moon Tiger” by Penelope Lively, the winner in 1987. And Robert McCrum, a writer and editor, selected “In a Free State” by V.S. Naipaul, which won in 1971. “The English Patient” was selected by the novelist Kamila Shamsie to represent the 1990s. Shamsie said in a statement, “‘The English Patient’ is that rare novel which gets under your skin and insists you return to it time and again, always yielding a new surprise or delight.”