I’ve just been up all night reading A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian – which was actually an alright read, but I probably wouldn’t have stayed up all night if I wasn’t having a rare insomnia attack.

Anyhow, one of the things that struck me about it was that the setting is mildly ambiguous. It seemed to be contemporary at first, then my suspicions were aroused when the narrator refers to her husband’s ability to cook polenta.

Now I hadn’t noticed this, but it seems that the Ruth Rogers-induced polenta craze has quietly died away. In more ways than one polenta has become to the nineties what white dog-poo was to the seventies. It wasn’t very nice, it was everywhere… and now it has gone. Anyway, good riddance to Italian peasant semolina!

The other thing I noticed about the book was that despite being published by Viking in 2005, it has already achieved translation into 27 (27!) languages. I thought that the worldwide market for comic fiction was about 27 people! But here we have a book that has been translated into 27 languages within a year of its publication in its original language. The anachronistic reference to polenta and the speed at which it has been translated into all these languages leads me to believe that this manuscript has been kicking around a while.

I have just picked my copy up again and I notice it has been shortlisted for The Booker, The Orange Prize and The SAGA award for Wit (!) as well as winning the Bollinger Everyman Prize for Comic Fiction (!!). It does lead one to wonder, in such lean times for literary fiction, why there are more prizes going than there are books fit to win them. John ‘Plotless’ Banville winning the Booker, this winsome, mumsy, middle-aged piece being put forward for four awards… what is going on?