Anjali Joseph was tonight (Thursday 23 June) named as the winner of the £10,000 Desmond Elliott Prize 2011 for Saraswati Park, published by Fourth Estate.
The Prize is awarded annually to the best first novel and Anjali Joseph’s portrayal of modern-day India was selected for its enchanting narrative and assured style. Edward Stourton, Chair of Judges, comments, “We were united in our admiration for Saraswati Park, which we found utterly absorbing and faultlessly written. The characters are beautifully rendered, and their lives, with their ambitions and regrets, stay with you long after you have closed the last page. Anjali Joseph’s skills as a novelist are humbling.”
Anjali Joseph’s career has encompassed teaching and office temping, as well as spells as a trainee accountant and in journalism. After reading English at Trinity College, Cambridge, she went on to teach at the Sorbonne and has since written for The Times of India in Bombay and worked as Commissioning Editor for ELLE (India). She is now concentrating on her second novel, whose action will take place across three cities – Paris, London and Bombay. Saraswati Park was joined on the 2011 shortlist by Boxer, Beetle (Ned Beauman) and Pigeon English (Stephen Kelman).
The Desmond Elliott Prize, specifically for first novels, is now in its fourth year. Here the judges are looking for a novel of depth and breadth with a compelling narrative. The work should be vividly written and confidently executed and should contain original and arresting characters. Entries from all fiction genres are considered.
Saraswati Park by Anjali Joseph (Fourth Estate) Mohan is a contemplative man who has spent his life observing people from his seat as a letter-writer outside Bombay’s main post office, but his lack of engagement is creating a rift between him and his wife Lakshmi. At this delicate moment they are joined at their home in Saraswati Park by their nephew Ashish, a diffident, sexually uncertain 19-year-old who has to repeat his final year of college. As the novel unfolds, the lives of the three characters are thrown into relief by the comical frustrations of family life. When Lakshmi loses her only brother, she leaves Bombay for a relative’s home to mourn not only the death of a sibling but also the vital force of her marriage. Ashish, meanwhile, embarks upon an affair with a much richer boy in his college and, later, succumbs to the overtures of his private tutor. As Mohan scribbles away in the margins of the sort of books he secretly hopes to produce one day, he worries about whether his wife will return, what will become of Ashish and if he himself will ever find his own voice and write from the margins about the centre of which he will never be a part.
Anjali Joseph was born in Bombay in 1978. Following her degree in English from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 2008 she gained, with distinction, an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. She lives in Norwich and is now writing her second novel. She picked up the Betty Trask Award for Saraswati Park earlier this month.
You can read The Asian Writer interview with Anjali Joseph here.