Patrick Modiano/Photo: A. Mahmoud

Steinbeck admitted that he did not deserve it, but accepted anyway. Sartre assumed that he did deserve it, but refused on principle. Pinter plainly did not deserve it, but accepted, also on principle. Tolstoy was glad to miss out, because he would have had to dispose of the money. Joyce, who could have done with the money, was never nominated.

The follies attending the selection process of the Nobel Prize for Literature constitute one of the only two interesting things about the prize. The other interesting thing about the Nobel is not the acceptance speeches, though Pinter’s speech, a note-perfect send-up of...

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