March 24, 2015
Another American! Akhil Sharma wins Folio Prize
by Kirsten Reach
The second Folio Prize for Fiction is awarded to an American for his a second novel: Family Life by Akhil Sharma. Sharma’s rendering of an American family is deemed “lucid, compassionate, and quietly funny” by the judges. David Sedaris also called the novel “outstanding”!
Selling a second novel can be difficult, so good on Faber and W.W. Norton. Sharma spent thirteen years writing the book, which, he revealed in the New Yorker‘s PageTurner, was based on a similar event that affected his family. The older of two boys hits his head during a pool dive and suffers brain damage:
I would often meditate on the horrible possibility that my brother might have been aware and not unconscious during the minutes underwater—poor boy, lying on the bottom of the pool and looking up at the people swimming back and forth above him like they were stroking their way across the sky. Along with the simple misery of examining things that I would rather not have considered, my artistic instincts were thrown off. I didn’t feel as confident as I usually do about how to describe a room or a street, because the room and the street were based on real life and I kept comparing fictional reality with factual reality and finding the former wan. . . .
[In rereading] what I have noticed is that my novel has an even, white light. It is as if the scenes are painted on paper and you can see the white beneath. I wonder whether this is because the style is such a conscious reversal of Chekhov.
Well done, Sharma, for taking on such a tough issue in fiction. We hope your book is being stickered right now, and that you enjoy the £40,000 prize. (As Dame Hilary Mantel has pointed out early in her career, writing pays very little per hour, especially when you start to calculate an hourly rate for a book that takes you over a decade.)
Ali Smith‘s How to Be Both continues to be the finalist for nearly every prize, including the Man Booker and the highest level of the Costa. Colm Toibin was the other favorite at 5/1 odds for Nora Webster. Incidentally, Ladbrokes told the Guardian that there were a significant number of last-minute bets on Sharma. Betting on this prize was up 350% from last year. That’s a lot!
Ladbrokes is the same place that brought you a corgi race to decide the (second!) royal baby name. Everything is arriving in twos.
Can it be long before we’re deciding Booker Prize winners by corgi? No, it cannot. But after George Saunders took last year’s prize, and Sharma took this year’s, I’d put money on another English language-speaking country for 2016.
Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.