Folio Prize 2015 goes to Akhil Sharma for Family Life, the novel which 'shattered' its author

Sharma bemoaned the time the novel took to write: “I’m glad the book exists, I just wish I hadn’t been the guy who wrote it.”

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The Independent Culture

A semi-autobiographical novel, which was nine years overdue and “shattered” the author’s youth, has won the Folio Prize, the literary award set up to compete with the Man Booker Prize.

Akhil Sharma, who was born in Delhi and whose  family emigrated to the US, was awarded the second annual Folio Prize for his book Family Life, along with a cheque for £40,000. Yet he described the 13-year process of writing the book as being “like chewing stones”.

The author, who is currently writing a collection of short stories, bemoaned the time the novel took to write: “I’m glad the book exists, I just wish I hadn’t been the guy who wrote it.”

Sharma, 43, continued:  “I started writing this book when I was 30.  I really feel I’ve shattered my youth.”

Much of the book, which is about an Indian family’s move to America, is autobiographical, including an incident in a swimming pool which left his brother with severe brain injuries.

 

“When I got the prize my first response was to feel enormous shame because my first response was that I had received too much luck,” he said. “My poor brother received no luck … I was glad to have it but don’t know if I deserved it.”

Sharma, a former investment banker, frequently considered giving up the novel, but said: “I couldn’t bear the thought of spending all those years and nothing coming out of it.” The novel, which was the 8/1 outsider, was partly written to give more attention to care givers, he added. Chair of the judges, William Fiennes, said Family Life was “deceptively simple in its writing and emotionally rich, incredibly moving and funny in a surprising way. It touches on big, big themes to do with catastrophe and survival and family life, sibling attachment.”

Sharma was named one of Granta’s “Best of Young American Novelists” in 2007 and his first novel, An Obedient Father, won the 2001 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award.

The bookies had made Ali Smith’s How to Be Both, which was nominated for the Man Booker, 2/1 favourite. Other nominees included Colm Tóibín’s Nora Webster and Ben Lerner’s 10:04.

The Folio Prize was set up partly in response to a perceived “dumbing down” of the Booker Prize in 2011, when the judges said they were going for “readability”. The inaugural prize last year was won by George Saunders for his book Tenth of December.

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