The Prize for New Fiction
Desmond Elliott Prize
Anjali Joseph was tonight (Thursday 23 June) named as the winner of the £10,000 Desmond Elliott Prize 2011 for Saraswati Park, published by Fourth Estate. The Prize is awarded annually to the best first novel and Anjali Joseph’s portrayal of modern-day India was selected for its enchanting narrative and assured style.
“We were united in our admiration for Saraswati Park, which we found utterly absorbing and faultlessly written. The characters are beautifully rendered, and their lives, with their ambitions and regrets, stay with you long after you have closed the last page. Anjali Joseph’s skills as a novelist are humbling.”
Described by The Times as “a latter-day Mrs Gaskell”, Anjali Joseph quickly attracted the attention of the literary world: The Observer described Saraswati Park as “An elegantly realised portrait of unrequited love, frustrated aspirations and the unspoken compromises of marriage and family” and The Literary Review praised this “beautiful novel that personifies the new India from the inside out’. The Daily Telegraph selected Anjali Joseph as one of its “Top 20 Novelists under 40” alongside other outstanding emerging writers such as Zadie Smith and Adam Foulds.
Anjali Joseph’s career has encompassed teaching and office temping, as well as spells as a trainee accountant and in journalism. After reading English at Trinity College, Cambridge, she went on to teach at the Sorbonne and has since written for The Times of India in Bombay and worked as Commissioning Editor for ELLE (India). She is now concentrating on her second novel, whose action will take place across three cities – Paris, London and Bombay.
Saraswati Park was joined on the 2011 shortlist by Boxer, Beetle (Ned Beauman) and Pigeon English (Stephen Kelman).
The Desmond Elliott Prize, specifically for first novels, is now in its fourth year. Here the judges are looking for a novel of depth and breadth with a compelling narrative. The work should be vividly written and confidently executed and should contain original and arresting characters. Entries from all fiction genres are considered.
Saraswati Park by Anjali Joseph (Fourth Estate)
Mohan is a contemplative man who has spent his life observing people from his seat as a letter-writer outside Bombay’s main post office, but his lack of engagement is creating a rift between him and his wife Lakshmi. At this delicate moment they are joined at their home in Saraswati Park by their nephew Ashish, a diffident, sexually uncertain 19-year-old who has to repeat his final year of college. As the novel unfolds, the lives of the three characters are thrown into relief by the comical frustrations of family life. When Lakshmi loses her only brother, she leaves Bombay for a relative’s home to mourn not only the death of a sibling but also the vital force of her marriage. Ashish, meanwhile, embarks upon an affair with a much richer boy in his college and, later, succumbs to the overtures of his private tutor.
As Mohan scribbles away in the margins of the sort of books he secretly hopes to produce one day, he worries about whether his wife will return, what will become of Ashish and if he himself will ever find his own voice and write from the margins about the centre of which he will never be a part.
Anjali Joseph was born in Bombay in 1978. Following her degree in English from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 2008 she gained, with distinction, an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. She lives in Norwich and is now writing her second novel.
The Prize was established in honour of publisher and literary agent Desmond Elliott, one of the most charismatic and successful men in his field, who died in August 2003. He stipulated that his estate should be invested in a charitable trust that would fund a literary award “to enrich the careers of new writers”. Worth £10,000 to the winner, the Prize is intended to support debut novelists and to celebrate their fiction.
This year the Desmond Elliott Prize is chaired by Edward Stourton, acclaimed broadcaster and presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Show. He is joined on the panel by Fanny Blake, journalist, writer and Books Editor of Woman&Home magazine, and Amy Worth, part of the Kindle team at Amazon.co.uk and champion of digital publishing.