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Swedish Academy Investigates 'Cruel' Nobel Hoax on Irish Writer

While describing the prank as “a punch in the solar plexus”, award-winning writer John Banville still has the courage to see the “humour in the situation”.

The Swedish Academy has started investigating a prank call to Irish author John Banville in connection with the announcement of the Nobel laureate in literature.

“We have ordered phone logs so that we know if the call was actually made from inside the house or an outsider made it look like it was made from here”, permanent secretary Mats Malm told Swedish Radio.

On Thursday, shortly before the Nobel Prize announcement in Stockholm was made, someone called John Banville and claimed to be Mats Malm. The fake call sounded convincing enough and was described by Banville as “elaborate”. After the real Nobel laureates, Austrian Peter Handke and Pole Olga Tokarczuk, were announced, the same man who called the first time left a message on Banville's answering machine saying that the prize had been “withdrawn”.

The real Mats Malm subsequently voiced suspicions of manipulation. He called the prank “a really cruel joke”.

Banville, who for a brief moment considered himself this year's laureate, later described this experience to The Irish Times as “a punch in the solar plexus”. While Banville himself admittedly saw the humour in the situation, he called on the Swedish Academy to look carefully into whether they had an “ill-wisher” or a “man with a grudge” in their midst.

The 18-member Swedish Academy is the highest Swedish language authority. Outside Scandinavia, it is known as the body that administers the Nobel Prize in literature.

This year, even the real laureates sparked controversy. In Poland's patriotic circles, many view Tokarczuk as a traitor, whose writings tarnish the nation's good name. In Kosovo, demonstrations were held opposite the Swedish Embassy with demands to revoke Handke's prize. The acclaimed Austrian writer, famous for his screenplays “The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick” and “Wings of Desire”, sparked Albanian outrage for his pro-Serb sentiment during the Yugoslav wars, viewing Serbia as the victim and even holding a eulogy at former president Slobodan Milosevic's funeral.

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