Indian-origin author Chetna Maroo's debut novel on Booker Prize longlist
The 13 books on the list range from personal dramas to tragicomic family sagas, from the effects of climate change to the oppression of minorities, to scientific breakthroughs.
LONDON: London-based Indian-origin author Chetna Maroo's debut novel 'Western Lane' is among 13 books to make the cut for the 2023 Booker Prize longlist revealed on Tuesday.
Kenya-born Maroo's novel, set within the context of the British Gujarati milieu, has been praised by the Booker judges for its use of the sport of squash as a metaphor for complex human emotions.
"Skilfully deploying the sport of squash as both context and metaphor, 'Western Lane' is a deeply evocative debut about a family grappling with grief, conveyed through crystalline language which reverberates like the sound 'of a ball hit clean and hard with a close echo'," said the Booker Prize judging panel, chaired by twice Booker-shortlisted Canadian novelist Esi Edugyan.
The description of 'Western Lane' reads thus: "A taut, enthralling first novel about grief, sisterhood, and a young athlete’s struggle to transcend herself. Eleven-year-old Gopi has been playing squash since she was old enough to hold a racket. When her mother dies, her father enlists her in a quietly brutal training regimen, and the game becomes her world. Slowly, she grows apart from her sisters. Her life is reduced to the sport, guided by its rhythms: the serve, the volley, the drive, the shot and its echo. But on the court, she is not alone. She is with her pa. She is with Ged, a thirteen-year-old boy with his own formidable talent. She is with the players who have come before her. She is in awe. An indelible coming-of-age story, Chetna Maroo’s first novel captures the ordinary and annihilates it with beauty. Western Lane is a valentine to innocence, to the closeness of sisterhood, to the strange ways we come to know ourselves and each other."
The 2023 Booker Prize winner will be announced on November 26 at an award ceremony in London.
The winner receives GBP 50,000 and a trophy named 'Iris' in honour of the 1978 Booker Prize-winning Irish-British author Iris Murdoch.
'Western Lane' is one of four debut novels that make up this year's so-called 'Booker Dozen' of 13 longlisted books, alongside 'If I Survive You' by Jonathan Escoffery, 'Pearl' by Siân Hughes and 'All the Little Bird-Hearts' by Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow.
Sebastian Barry's 'Old God's Time', Paul Harding's 'The Other Eden', Ayobami Adebayo's 'A Spell of Good Things', Paul Lynch's 'Prophet Song', Martin Macinnes' 'In Ascension', Tan Twan Eng's 'The House of Doors', Paul Murray's 'The Bee Sting', Sarah Bernstein's 'Study for Obedience', and Elaine Feeney's 'How to Build a Boat' make up the rest of the longlist.
The 13 books, with authors spanning Malaysia, Nigeria, Ireland, Canada, the US and the UK, explore universal and topical themes --- from deeply moving personal dramas to tragicomic family sagas, from the effects of climate change to the oppression of minorities, and from scientific breakthroughs to competitive sport.
"The list is defined by its freshness --- by the irreverence of new voices, by the iconoclasm of established ones," said Edugyan.
"All 13 novels cast new light on what it means to exist in our time, and they do so in original and thrilling ways. Their range is vast, both in subject and form: they shocked us, made us laugh, filled us with anguish, but above all, they stayed with us. This is a list to excite, challenge, delight, a list to bring wonder. The novels are small revolutions, each seeking to energise and awaken the language. Together - whether historical or contemporary - they offer startling portraits of the current," she said.
Edugyan was joined on the judging panel by British actor, writer and director Adjoa Andoh; Hong Kong Chinese poet, lecturer, editor and critic Mary Jean Chan; American author and professor James Shapiro; and British actor and writer Robert Webb.
Their selection was made from 163 books published between October 2022 and September 2023 and submitted by publishers.
The Booker Prize is open annually to works of long-form fiction by writers of any nationality, written in English and published in the UK or Ireland.
"The range of experience, expertise and sensibility among this year's judges led them to seek novels that both advanced the form and allowed the reader to understand something about the world; books that would have impact and longevity; books that moved them - and above all, books of such excellence and subtlety that the judges looked forward to re-reading them," said Gaby Wood, Chief Executive of the Booker Prize Foundation.
The longlist will be whittled down to a shortlist of six books, to be announced on September 21 at an event at the newly reopened National Portrait Gallery in London.
The shortlisted authors will each receive GBP 2,500 and a specially-bound edition of their book.
(With online desk inputs)