Speaking on behalf of the jury, Shashi Deshpande announced the winner of the Award. Here's what she has to say...
Hilary Mantel, after she got the Booker Prize for Wolf Hall, spoke of how decisions about prizes are most often reached through a process of ‘negotiation and compromise'. However, as far as the decision of this jury is concerned, the truth is that there was absolutely no question of negotiation and compromise. The decision was unanimous. In fact, I am sure few juries would have reached a decision as swiftly as we did.
Manu Joseph's Serious Men is not only truly original, it is a very surprising novel. For one thing, it enters areas not many Indian English novelists have ventured into — the world of science and institutional research. And, it circles around that contentious issue of caste, which too IWE writers have been wary about. But what is most astonishing is the casual aplomb with which he ignores political correctness in matters of caste, as well as of gender. These are approached with a rare and marvellous lightness of touch, which gives the reader a totally different perspective.
Reading the book, the reader feels that this author knows what he is doing and where he is going. Such confidence and a sureness of touch make it hard to believe that this is a first novel. But, clearly, Manu Joseph is a very skilled writer, for he has given us a story, laced with humour and spiked with subtle irony, about a rather unscrupulous hero, who manages to somehow engage the reader's sympathy. Very refreshingly, Manu Joseph seems to be cheerfully free of the anxiety of being an Indian Writer in English. There is no obvious experimentation. He uses no stylistic gimmicks, nor are there any in-your-face flourishes of language. Everything — absolutely everything — is subordinated to the telling of the story, which is exactly what any good novelist would do. Nowhere is his skill more apparent than in the pictures of two very different marriages in the book, which are so real, they go way beyond authenticity. And in the fact that his portrayal of Mumbai chawl life is totally free of clichés and stereotypes.
Serious Men has qualities which novels seem to be rather cavalier about these days. It is a well crafted novel, a well plotted novel, it is a well told and a told-with-humour story about people who are very alive. More significantly, it has broken through many barriers and pushed back the frontiers of Indian writing in English. And what is even more important in a novel, it is a wonderful read.