Chetna Maroo’s debut novel ‘Western Lane’ in Booker Prize 2023 longlist

Chetna Maroo’s debut novel ‘Western Lane’ in Booker Prize 2023 longlist

Kenya-born Londoner Chetna Maroo’s debut novel set in the context of a British Gujarati family has been selected for the “Booker Dozen” of 13 books on the longlist for this year’s £50,000 literary prize.

“I don’t know if you have ever stood in the middle of a squash court – on the T – and listened to what is going on next door. What I’m thinking of is the sound from the next court of a ball hit clean and hard. It’s a quick, low pistol shot of a sound, with a close echo. The echo, which is the ball striking the wall of the court, is louder than the shot itself. This is what I hear when I remember the year after our mother died, and our father had us practising at Western Lane two, three, four hours a day…”

That is an excerpt from ‘Western Lane’, a coming-of-age novel about three sisters whose father enlists them into a rigorous regimen of playing squash following the death of their mother. It is also an exploration of an immigrant father’s attempts to raise his family as a single parent, while consumed by his own grief and loss.

Gopi lives with her two older sisters and their father in Luton. Their mother has died; their father’s grief is palpable but unarticulated. Far away in Edinburgh their uncle and aunt worry and wait: unable to have children, the couple’s wish to take a niece into their home and raise her as their own hangs over the girls like a curse in a fairy tale.

In the meantime, the girls’ father becomes obsessed with training his daughters at the local leisure centre to excel squash. Gopi is good, an intense and strategic student of the game, and soon her world starts to shrink down to the small square space of the court... Deeply moving, subtle and artfully restrained, brimming with feeling and telling details and gestures, ‘Western Lane’ is a taut and involving novel about grief, family, and a young athlete's struggle to transcend herself.

Maroo’s stories have been published in the ‘Paris Review’, the ‘Stinging Fly’ and the ‘Dublin

Review’ and she was the recipient of the 2022 Plimpton Prize for Fiction.

“Skilfully deploying the sport of squash as both context and metaphor, ‘Western Lane’ is a deeply evocative debut about a family grappling with grief, conveyed through crystalline language which reverberates like the sound 'of a ball hit clean and hard… with a close echo',” said the Booker Prize judging panel, chaired by twice Booker-shortlisted Canadian novelist Esi Edugyan.

The other books on the longlist include:

  • ‘If I Survive You’ by Jonathan Escoffery

  • ‘Pearl’ by Siân Hughes

  • ‘All the Little Bird-Hearts’ by Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow

  • ‘Old God’s Time’ by Sebastian Barry

  • ‘The Other Eden’ by Paul Harding

  • ‘A Spell of Good Things’ by Ayobami Adebayo

  • ‘Prophet Song’ by Paul Lynch

  • ‘In Ascension’ by Martin Macinnes

  • ‘The House of Doors’ by Tan Twan Eng

  • ‘The Bee Sting’ by Paul Murray

  • ‘Study for Obedience’ by Sarah Bernstein

  • ‘How to Build a Boat’ by Elaine Feeney

Edugyan was joined on the judging panel by British actor, writer and director Adjoa Andoh; Hong Kong Chinese poet, lecturer, editor and critic Mary Jean Chan; American author and professor James Shapiro; and British actor and writer Robert Webb.  Their selection was made from 163 books published between October 2022 and September 2023 and submitted by publishers. The Booker Prize is open annually to works of long-form fiction by writers of any nationality, written in English and published in the UK or Ireland.


Chetna Maroo’s debut novel ‘Western Lane’ in Booker Prize 2023 longlist
First-ever Tamil novel to compete for International Booker Prize

The shortlist of six books will be unveiled on September 21 and the winner will be declared on November 26 at an award ceremony in London.

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