Yesterday, the Man International Booker Prize committee announced this year's finalists. Their list included John le Carré, still producing cracking thrillers at 79.
Le Carré, sadly, was in no mood to be nominated, and issued a rather humourless statement. "I am enormously flattered to be named as a finalist. However I do not compete for literary prizes and have therefore asked for my name to be withdrawn."
A few prizes are clearly undesirable. The Bad Sex Award, for instance, or the Razzies for the worst of cinema. But the £60,000 International Booker, for most of us, would not be one of them.
Even better was the Prize's response. Most committees would happily remove a nominee who didn't actually want to win. Not so the International Booker. Rick Gekoski, the chair, replied cheerily: "John le Carré's name will, of course, remain on the list. We are disappointed that he wants to withdraw from further consideration because we are great admirers of his work."
It's a hilarious stand-off. Le Carré's policy allows him to remain at an dignified distance from the mucky world of prizegiving. But there is no dignity in this sort of squabble, and every passing exchange reduces it further. By calling Le Carré's bluff, they have put the author in a difficult position.
What will happen if he wins? Will he refuse the cheque, only for the organisers to find a crafty way to give it to him anyway? I envisage anonymous cash through his letterbox, or taxi drivers saying "that's alright, mate" with a wink. It could be from one of his novels.