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graphy: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland
John Banville

'For about 40 minutes I was a Nobel Prize winner': Irish author victim of hoax call

Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk and Austrian author Peter Handke were both awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.

IRISH AUTHOR JOHN Banville was the victim of a hoax in which he was wrongly told he had won the Nobel Prize in Literature. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Marian Finucane programme, Banville said he received a call on Thursday, shortly before the official announcement, from who he thought was the Swedish academy telling him he was one of two winners of the coveted award. 

“For about 40 minutes I was a Nobel Prize winner, I learnt a lot of things about myself in those forty minutes,” he said. 

The prize actually went to Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk and Austrian author Peter Handke. Tokarczuk was named as the winner for 2018, while the Handke was named as the winner for 2019.

The academy suspended the award process last year after it was engulfed in a sexual assault scandal. 

‘Cancel the champagne’

Banville explained that on the day in question, a man claiming to be Mats Malm, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, called to say he and another woman had won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

He described the caller as ”very convincing” and said he even read him the citation. 

Who was I to disbelieve it?

To verify the number, he called it back and it was the Swedish academy – but he couldn’t get through as the lines were all busy. 

After calling friends to tell them the good news, his daughter phoned him to say she was watching the announcement live and he wasn’t one of the winners.

He then had to call everyone back to say he hadn’t won, “cancel the champagne, it’s a hoax,” he joked. 

Banville then received a voicemail from someone claiming to be Malm again, saying there was a disagreement in the committee and it had chosen two other writers. 

The Man Booker Prize winner believes he was not the target of the cruel hoax but instead was “collateral damage” for someone with a grudge against the academy.

“I assume it was someone inside the Swedish academy who is disaffected and wanted to cause a scandal for the Swedish Academy.”

“It was exciting while it lasted,” he said. 

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