The 2016 Ramon Llull novel prize went to Víctor M. Amela, a journalist not really known for his books but for his appearances in an afternoon talkshow on TV. His winning the prize led to some discussions that had little to do with the contents of the winning work. But let’s go step by step.
The winning novel is entitled La filla del capità Groc [Captain Yellow’s daughter]. According to the author, “it is a romantic novel based on real facts that happened in the middle of the 19th century in the [mountains of] Ports of Morella [between Castellón and Aragón], with a little note of witchcraft, with loves, jealousy, friendship, betrayal, selfless dedication to unusual limits to a dream and some ideals, and also passions, father-daughter love, conjugal love and passion for the other.” (Source) The story is based on the life of Tomás Peñarrocha who was known as the Yellow of Forcall due to his blonde hair, and on his daughter Manuela, who at 13 years of age already had “a burning temperament”. Amela consulted the documentation of local historians and his main source was Memorias de un voluntario carlista forcallano. 1833-1874 [Memories by a Forcall Carlist volunteer], written by José Bordás Marcova, Manuela’s husband, published in 1997 by the Forcall city hall. The author describes his protagonist as “a 19th century Robin Hood who defends his people against the liberal’s oppression and injustice.” Josep Massot explains that “beyond passions, the scheme of a bestselling adventure novel also needs a betrayal and an antagonist to the hero. The bad one in this case is the Majorcan Juan de Villalonga y Escalada, sent by the liberals to wipe out the Carlist forces in the Maestrat region.” (source) [For more information on the historical background, the Wikipedia has got articles on the Carlist wars.]
The Ramon Llull Catalan letter prize is given by Planeta group and the Ramon Llull foundation, and it is the highest endowed prize (60,000 EUR) for a book written in Catalan, and so far had been seen as a label of quality for a work written in that language (one can find a list of former laureates at the Wikipedia article).
The problem with this year’s winning work is that a lot of people don’t believe that it was the best among the 48 or so entries into the competition, or that they don’t believe that it was really written by Amela alone. They find it curious that Amela is the only participant in the afternoon TV show who constantly speaks Spanish and whose Catalan is considered by some as of a basic level. His previous novels were written in Spanish, and so some people think about a very good corrector or translator in the background. On another level, giving the prize to a “mediatic” author, puts into question the whole concept of giving literary prizes as it appears that the prize is given more on marketing considerations (a well-known author sells a lot more) than on literary quality ones – though the jury is presumably independent and the works are entered anonymously… This problem has been around for some time as it seems that publishing houses tend to give their prizes not to emerging talents waiting to be discovered but to their own authors whom they want to promote; and the little prize money involved buys a lot of cheap advertising as the prize winning works are mentioned in the culture sections of all kinds of media. And the prize winners often lead the bestselling lists of subsequent book buying events such as Sant Jordi [Saint George’s day, 23 April] and Christmas…
SOURCE: Josep Massot, La Vanguardia, Jan. 30, 2016, p. 38-39 [printed edition; for the paragraph on the novel’s content and the author comments]