Bookies predict odds of SA novelist winning the Nobel Prize for literature

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Ivan Vladislavic. (Photo: Supplied)
Ivan Vladislavic. (Photo: Supplied)
  • The Nobel Prize in Literature is due to be announced on Thursday. 
  • Bookies predict SA's Ivan Vladislavic has a 25-1 chance of winning the coveted award.
  • Many, however, believe Salman Rushdie may win the prize following the attack on the author earlier this year.

The winner of this year's Nobel Prize in Literature is due to be announced on Thursday, 6 October, and bookies are calculating the odds for each potential laureate.

Interestingly, South African novelist and short story writer Ivan Vladislavic was given 25-1 odds to win the prize by betting site NicerOdds towards the end of September. Those odds have since fallen to 30-1 if you go by Betsson.

A piece in The New Republic, admittedly a crabby and somewhat satirical piece, gives Vladislavic's odds as 40-1.

Vladislavic has published several acclaimed works of fiction, beginning with his collection Missing Persons in 1989. He has published five novels (most recently, in 2019, The Distance), four story collections, a monograph on the artist Willem Boshoff, and a non-fiction work about life in Johannesburg, Portrait with Keys. Vladislavic is published by Umuzi.

When Louise Glück won in 2020, her odds of winning were 25-1 just ahead of the announcement, says LitHub. It also notes that the odds of any writer winning the prize are skewed by the unknown criteria used by the Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel. The academy seems to cycle through continents, giving each a turn, and it looks like it's Asia's turn this year.

Ivan Vladislavic
Double Negative by Ivan Vladislavic.
Ivan Vladislavic
The Distance by Ivan Vladislavic.

Then again, events can redirect the academy's attention, and the prize often seems to be awarded to make a political point. Thus many commentators argue that the winner of this year's prize will be Salman Rushdie. The author of Midnight's Children and The Satanic Verses was recently stabbed by a Muslim attacker attempting to carry out the fatwa issued by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. The ayatollah condemned Rushdie, who is of Indian descent, to death for blasphemy. He was seen to have mocked Islam in The Satanic Verses. Rushdie was forced to live in hiding, under guard, for more than a decade. The fatwa cannot, apparently, be rescinded, hence the stabbing by a devout Muslim.

If the Swedish Academy's decision-making process is mysterious, the bookies' means of calculating the odds of any author's win are seemingly based on how many prizes they have won over the course of their career. Vladislavic has won several, including the Olive Schreiner Prize for Missing Persons, the CNA Literary Award for The Folly, the Sunday Times Fiction Prize for The Restless Supermarket, the Sunday Times Non-Fiction Award and the University of Johannesburg Prize for Portrait with Keys, and the UJ Prize and the M-Net Literary Award for Double Negative.

Looking across a variety of sources attempting to predict this year's winner, it looks like the frontrunners, a day or two ahead of the announcement, are Michel Houellebecq (7-1, according to Ladbrokes), Rushdie (8-1), Ngugi wa Thiong'o (11-1), and Haruki Murakami (14-1). Place your bets.


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