You are here

An Indian crisis of confidence

An Indian crisis of confidence

A recent piece on an Indian news site helped to highlight not just the circular nature of literary fashions but also the surprisingly shaky confidence of even the most established of writerly cultures. 'Where', asked the author, 'are the Indian Writers in English, the ‘IWE’ category that was once a darling of the English publishing scene internationally? Are there fewer books in the category coming out, or is it that they are coming out to less and less acclaim?' The writer went on to lament that there appears to be no current equivalents of Man Booker winners such as Kiran Desai, Aravind Adiga, Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy (whose new novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, her first for 20 years, will be published in June). 'Last year, for the first time in many years, not a single book by an Indian writer, even one of Indian origin such as Sanjeev Sahota who was on the 2015 shortlist, made it to the Man Booker Prize longlist . . . the absolute no-show must say something about the general state of fiction writing in English in these parts [India]. Have English writers, in a sense, run out of new stories that will take the world by storm?” One's instinct is to suggest that the roots of Indian literary fiction are too deep for it to have withered. Just because recent winners such as Marlon James and Paul Beatty have come from the West doesn't mean that book-reading eyes won't turn East again.


In 2015 the Nigerian author Chigozie Obioma's debut novel The Fishermen made the Man Booker  shortlist. The book is now being adapted for the stage next year by the New Perspectives theatre company based in Nottingham, which has previously staged works by Saul Bellow, Daphne Du Maurier and Ted Hughes. Jack McNamara, the company's artistic director, said 'In addition to the Macbeth-like prophecy that sets the main action in motion, the novel evokes a strong dramatic dynamic between its main characters and evokes such a powerful sense of place. Like the best of theatre it is both expansive and intimate, looking at big themes through a narrow lens.' Put in these terms its translation to the theatre seems only natural. The book recounts the story of four fisherman brothers and a prophecy that the eldest will be killed by one of the others. Like many of the best books it can be experienced on either page or stage.


This same principle underlies London Book & Screen Week 2017 (13-19 March), 'a seven day, citywide series of events celebrating books and the films, TV programmes and virtual worlds they inspire'. The festival's ambassador is David Nicholls, author of the hugely successful book (and subsequent film) One Day and Man Booker longlisted in 2014 for Us. Among the other Man Booker authors taking part in the festival are the 1993 winner Roddy Doyle, whose novel The Commitmentswas turned into both a film and a stage musical, and the twice-shortlisted Deborah Levy. The assorted events take in everything from Jane Austen to hygge (never before mentioned in the same sentence), fitness and the 20thanniversary of Harry Potter. 


The literary prize world never sleeps: the International Prize for Arab Fiction – the Man Booker's Middle Eastern cousin – has just announced its shortlist. Spare a thought for the judges who had to work their way through a whopping 186 entries from 19 countries to come up with their list of six contenders. The winner will be announced in Abu Dhabi on 25 April and will receive $50,000 plus the guarantee of an English translation of their book, while the judges' prize is a cold compress and a long lie down.