UK-based Indian-origin author Chetna Maroo’s debut novel, Western Lane, has been shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize.
The novel follows 11-year-old Gopi and her sisters, who are grieving the recent loss of their mother and learn to channel it into squash.
Released earlier this year, the book has garnered praise for its inventive use of sports as a metaphor to delve into intricate human emotions.
Maroo agreed that labeling the novel as a sports-focused story is ‘fair’. However, the book has also been described as a coming-of-age tale, a family saga, and a narrative that explores both the complexities of loss and the experiences of immigrants.
“All this to say, I’m not sure how best to categorize Western Lane but I’m interested in how readers read it,” she said. Maroo hails originally from Kenya and currently resides in London.
Western Lane is also the shortest among the six shortlisted books, at 161 pages.
For Maroo, the story itself began with the game of squash.
“It started with the feeling of being inside a squash court, with a voice saying, ‘There were three of us.’ I knew there were three sisters in the court. I knew there was a father on the balcony above, instructing the girls. And I knew they all felt the presence of an absent mother,” Maroo said.
She talked about how it was unusual for her to experience such a clear impulse for the start of a story, but that she trusted it.
“There was also something about the squash court itself, about the simple white box: it’s such a surreal, unfamiliar place, and in part because of the unfamiliarity it’s a place where time seems suspended and the outside world can be forgotten,” she added.
The judging panel for the 2023 Booker Prize unveiled the ultimate selection of six novels from a longlist of 13 titles, often referred to as the “Booker dozen.”
The other books that made the cut are The Bee Sting by Paul Murray (Ireland), Prophet Song by Paul Lynch (Ireland), If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery (US), This Other Eden by Paul Harding (US), and Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein (Canada).
These works were chosen from a pool of 163 books published between October 2022 and September this year.
Eligibility for the Booker Prize extends to works written in English by authors “from anywhere in the world,” provided that the book is published in the United Kingdom or Ireland.
Canadian novelist and chair of 2023 Booker Prize judges Esi Edugyan said, “Together these (six) works showcase the breadth of what world literature can do, while gesturing at the unease of our moment.
She added that the shortlisted novels are all “vibrant, nervy, and electric” and manage to capture a timeless quality while also offering profound insights into contemporary life.
Maroo’s The Western Lane and Jonathan Escoffery’s If I Survive You are the two debut novels included in the shortlist, and none of the six have been shortlisted for the prize before.
The 2022 Booker Prize celebrated The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka, an accomplished Sri Lankan author renowned for his extensive body of work, including novels, children’s literature, and short stories.
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