Akhil Sharma’s Family Life (Faber) has finally gained the recognition it deserves by winning the Folio Prize, trade figures have told The Bookseller. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the prize said there will be conversations about the future of its funding this summer.
Sharma’s novel, based loosely on real life events in the author’s life, took 13 years to write and was nine years overdue.
The 43-year-old author, who was awarded the Folio Prize for Fiction last night (23rd March) in London, said the novel had “shattered” his youth, as he spent his 30s writing it.
He paid tribute in his acceptance speech to his editor Lee Brackstone and to Faber, saying: “People don’t appreciate the work that editors do. My book is nine years overdue, and I don’t think any other publishing house would have tolerated this.”
Hannah Griffiths, associate publisher for fiction at Faber, told The Bookseller: “Why did no one get that this was the novel of 2014? I am so pleased there has been a proper correction to the story of this novel.”
Chris White, fiction buyer at Waterstones, said: “I’m delighted that Family Life has finally obtained the recognition it deserves. A truly remarkable novel: intelligent, moving and utterly immersive. The reading public will be incredibly grateful that the Folio judges have brought this book to their attention.”
Sheila O’Reilly from Dulwich Books agreed, and said: “I think the book is finally getting the recognition it deserves.
“It was a great shortlist with books that were not picked up by other awards. I think there’s something wrong with the criteria as the same books win on every award. The industry needs a whole variety of writing.
“I think Family Life is a brilliantly written book and I think that it will have been missed by many people. I think with the higher profile and audience [from the win] it’s one of those ones that will sell.”
She said she hoped Faber would consider bringing the paperback release of Family Life forward from April.
“I think the best way for these sort of slightly less known authors is to have the paperback ready,” she said.
Sharma’s book is about a family that moves from India to America in the 1970s and must cope with the cultural adjustment, and then deal with tragedy when the oldest son in the family is left brain damaged in an accident. The events loosely follow events from Sharma’s own life, as his older brother was also left brain damaged after an accident.
The book was difficult to write said Sharma, and he did consider giving up regularly.
“I am professionally glad that the book has received attention,” he said. “The story is not just mine but of care givers, and I would like more people to know [that story].
“It is something we have all experienced or will experience, so I am glad it exists. I just wish I hadn’t been the guy that wrote it.”
He said his first response when he heard he’d won was to “feel enormous shame” because he had “received too much love” while his brother had not.
Sharma paid tribute to his fellow shortlisted authors, saying: “The Folio Prize is devoted to the quality of the book. For me all these [shortlisted] books are excellent books. To receive particular favour, I don’t know if I am deserving of it.”
The other shortlisted books were Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (Granta); Outline by Rachel Cusk (Faber); 10:04 by Ben Lerner (Granta); Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill (Granta); How to be Both by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton); All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews (Faber); and Nora Webster by Colm Toibin (Viking).
In announcing the prize winner, chair of judges William Fiennes said: “Our shortlist has boldness and experiment and a deep core commitment to human struggles, fervours and longings.
“The list reminds me that fiction is itself a work-in-progress, reaching out for new shapes and strategies. It’s as if we’re eavesdropping on a marvellous conversation about what the novel is and might be.”
Joining Fiennes on the judging panel for this year’s prize writers Rachel Cooke, Mohsin Hamid, A M Homes and Deborah Levy.
Sharma spoke to The Bookseller about the writing process behind Family Life in March last year.
A spokesperson for the prize said that "there will be conversations about the future” of the funding of the Folio Prize over the summer. The Folio Society made an initial two-year commitment to the prize, for 2014 and 2015.