Winners of Commonwealth Writers’ Prize ‘take readers outside comfort zone’
Rana Dasgupta scoops Best Book prize while Glenda Guest wins in the Best First Book category
The two winning novels of this year’s Commonwealth Writers’ Prize “showed how magic, fantasy and creativity can burst out in the most apparently mundane of lives and places,” according to the judges.
Rana Dasgupta, a British born author who has lived in India since the turn of the century, won the Best Book category for his second novel, Solo, while the Best First Book Prize went to Australian Glenda Guest. Her book, Siddon Rock, was written as part of her Phd in Creative Writing.
The chair of the judging panel, Nicholas Hasluck, said these two books “are groundbreaking in taking readers outside their usual comfort zone.”
Embracing the unfamiliar
Speaking to Commonwealth News shortly after the judges announced their decision, Mr Dasgupta said that he wanted to disrupt the expectation that authors are supposed to write around a certain set of experiences they are familiar with.
– Rana Dasgupta’s next novel is set in New Delhi, which, he says, “is a barometer of what 21st century capitalism is about”.
– Glenda Guest currently has ideas for several books knocking around in her head.
“It is important for everyone on the planet to think about how they relate to people they don’t know,” he explained.
Mr Dasgupta found the “right setting for the feelings [he] wanted to write about” through his love of music. His passion drew him to researching about Bulgarian music and the country itself, which in turn helped him weave his plot.
The judges said of Solo that “it is a book that takes risks and examines the places where grim reality and fantastical daydreams merge, diverge, and feed off each other.”
Just like Mr Dasgupta, who was “genuinely surprised” at scooping the prize, Ms Guest felt “stunned” on hearing of her success in winning the Best First Book Prize. “For me, winning this prize is an affirmation that what I write is okay,” she said.
Small town dynamics
Ms Guest, who has lived in a number of small towns, says she finds their dynamics fascinating. This prompted her to explore what happens when people who are not from a community unexpectedly arrive in it, and the cultural and other implications which result.
The judges concluded that her novel “deftly delves into the hauntings and disjunctions of settler Australia, and in its fable-like quality captures the laconic mannerisms of the Australian outback.”
Both Mr Dasgupta and Ms Guest now join a distinguished list of some of the biggest names in modern fiction who have won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, including Louis de Bernieres, Vikram Seth and Andrea Levy.
As well as boosting their reputations on the literary scene, Mr Dasgupta will receive 10,000 British Pound, while Ms Guest will walk away with 5,000 British Pound.
The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, now in its 24th year, is organised by the Commonwealth Foundation, which helps civil society organisations promote democracy, development and cultural understanding. The main sponsor of the Prize is the Macquarie Group Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Macquarie Group Limited, a global provider of banking, financial, advisory, investment and fund management services.
Director of the Commonwealth Foundation and head of the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize, Mark Collins, said: “The two books chosen by the judges are ones that take us on unexpected journeys and challenge our conventional assumptions. The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize leads the way in spotting new literary icons and promoting literacy as a way to empower people and improve life chances.”