Indian-origin author Chetna Maroo, hailing from London, received recognition as her debut novel, ‘Western Lane,’ earned a spot on the shortlist for the 2023 Booker Prize in London on Thursday night.
The novel, authored by Kenya-born Chetna Maroo and framed within the British Gujarati community, has garnered praise from Booker Prize judges for its skilful use of squash as a metaphor to delve into intricate human emotions. ‘Western Lane’ primarily unfolds the narrative of an 11-year-old girl named Gopi and her profound connections with her family.
Chairing the 2023 Booker Prize judging panel, Canadian novelist Esi Edugyan, described Chetna Maroo’s debut as “deeply evocative,” depicting a family’s journey through grief with a writing style that resonates like “a ball hit clean and hard with a close echo.” Edugyan emphasised that the novel leaves a lasting impression.
Regarding her shortlisted work, Chetna Maroo shared her perspective, stating that it could be aptly described as a “sports novel.” She went on to mention that it has also been referred to as a “coming-of-age novel,” a “domestic novel,” a “novel about grief,” and an exploration of the “immigrant experience.”
Moreover, she noted that a friend had even suggested elements of a detective story, with Gopi’s quest to piece together small gestures, actions, and overheard conversations as she grappled with the mysteries of loss, all without clear answers.
Sarah Bernstein’s ‘Study for Obedience,’ Jonathan Escoffery’s ‘If I Survive You,’ Paul Harding’s ‘The Other Eden,’ Paul Lynch’s ‘Prophet Song,’ and Paul Murray’s ‘The Bee Sting’ have been unveiled as the final contenders on the six-book shortlist vying for the prestigious GBP 50,000 prize. The winner will be announced at an award ceremony scheduled for November 26 in London.
Esi Edugyan, chairing the judging panel, remarked that this selection of works demonstrates the expansive potential of world literature, all while reflecting the underlying unease of our current times.
From Bernstein and Harding’s portrayal of outsiders attempting to find their place in societies that resist them, to Escoffery and Murray’s portrayal of the often humorous struggles of adolescents forging their own identities apart from their parents’ mistakes, and to Maroo and Lynch’s elegant exploration of familial grief – each of these works speaks uniquely about our collective journeys while resisting categorisation into a single genre.
Despite their inherent optimism, humour, and portrayal of humanity, these books address several pressing issues of 2023, including climate change, immigration, financial hardships, the plight of minorities, political extremism, and the erosion of personal liberties. These stories feature characters in search of solace and belonging, or lamenting the loves they have lost.
Gaby Wood, Chief Executive of the Booker Prize Foundation, has described this year’s shortlist as one that transcends geographical boundaries. It features a British author of Indian heritage, an American author of Jamaican descent, a Canadian recently recognised as one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists, and two Irish authors.
Despite being newcomers to the Booker shortlist, all these writers have received acclaim in other literary circles. Wood expressed delight in introducing their exceptional talents and diverse writing styles to Booker Prize readers. Additionally, she eagerly anticipated the feedback and discussions that would emerge from the thousands of members of the new Booker Prize Book Club on Facebook.
The judging panel made their selection of the ultimate six novels from a pool of 13 long-listed titles, often referred to as the “Booker dozen.” These long-listed works were meticulously chosen from a total of 163 books published between October of the previous year and September of the current year. These submissions were put forth for consideration by publishers.
Notably, all authors who have made it to the shortlist are awarded GBP 2,500 and receive a specially crafted bound edition of their respective books. Furthermore, their books typically experience a significant surge in sales on a global scale as a result of this recognition.