A collection of short stories, Patna Manual of Style, and five novels — Odysseus Abroad, Seahorse, Sleeping on Jupiter, Flood of Fire, and When the River Sleeps – have been shortlisted for The Hindu Prize for Best Fiction 2015. The panel of judges comprises authors K. Satchidanandan, Susie Tharu, Antara Dev Sen, Arshia Sattar and Pradeep Sebastian. Here’s a peep into the shortlisted titles.

Odysseus Abroad, Amit Chaudhuri
Do not expect surprises in the plot when it comes to Chaudhuri. Instead, read what you’re offered and find joy in the small traces of ever so subtle humour that he carefully slips in between the lines. Odysseus Abroad is the story of Ananda who is studying to be a poet in London. Twice a week, he meets his maternal uncle, the bachelor Rangamama, who, despite his eccentricities, is his sole friend and companion on the lonely streets of London.

Sleeping on Jupiter, Anuradha Roy
The past is never truly behind us. While at times, it surprises us by catching up with the present, other times it is we who willingly probe into the happenings of the yore. Anuradha Roy’s Sleeping on Jupiter is the story of seven-year-old Nomi who, after witnessing the murder of her father and abandoned by her mother, finds herself in an orphanage run by an internationally acclaimed guru. She is soon adopted by a family abroad, but her memories of being sexually abused by the guru continue to haunt her through her growing up years. Nomi returns to India after 20 years as a filmmaker’s assistant desperate to piece together the truth behind her family’s disappearance and boldly face the demons of her somewhat scarred past.

Flood of Fire, Amitav Ghosh
Readers across the world waited with bated breath for Amitav Ghosh to bring out the final book of his hugely successful Ibis trilogy. Flood of Fire picks up his story in 1839, a few months before the outbreak of the First Opium War. We meet four characters again – Kesri Singh, an Indian soldier who has volunteered to be part of an expeditionary force for the East India Company; Zachary Reid, an American sailor who finds himself caught in the opium trade; Shireen Modi, a widow who travels to China to search for her late husband’s illegitimate chil;, and Neel Rattan Halder, a rajah who was separated from his son after his arrest by the British. What binds them is the force of the opium trade, which steers the theme of the book. But to sum up Ghosh’s Flood of Fire in a mere paragraph is gravely unfair; it’s best to simply go for it without further delay.

When the River Sleeps, Easterine Kire
One often perceives the north-east of India as mysterious and magical, thanks to the myths, legends and folk tales that make stories from that part of the country land appear mystical. Easterine Kire’s When the River Sleeps is one such book, which extracts its charm from the enchanting Naga mountains, a place brimming with natural wonder and the supernatural. Vilie is a hunter on a mission. He is in search of a river which is home to a powerful “heart-stone” which, when obtained, makes the possessor extremely powerful. But it’s no child’s play to attain it. Villie takes the reader into the deepest, darkest world of spirits and rituals, where the lines between believable and unbelievable, dream and reality, are blurred for good.

Seahorse, Janice Pariat
Janice Pariat’s debut novel Seahorse has Nem, a student of English literature at Delhi University, at its centre. He leads his life in a haze, oscillating between classes, weed-infused parties, and amorous activities at the college, until he falls in love with an art historian named Nicholas. It is he who introduces Nem to a world of artistic discovery and pleasure. Then one day, Nicholas disappears and Nem is left grappling with the void of his mentor’s absence until he moves to London and attempts once again to search for Nicholas. Seahorse touches upon the retelling of the myth of Poseidon and his youthful male devotee Pelops. There’s love, loss, longing and healing, and in between all of this is Pariat’s lucid prose that effortlessly balances contemporary overtones of sexuality.

Patna Manual of Style, Siddharth Chowdhury
Nine stories linked to each other introduce the reader once again to Hriday Thakur (the hero of Chowdhury’s earlier book, Day Scholar), an aspiring writer from Patna who arrives in Delhi to become a writer. And the process of becoming one is what makes his life interesting. Every person he meets during the course of his struggle becomes a part of his story. Chowdhury’s book is neither a novel nor an anthology, and yet, the nine stories, narrated in parts, are connected, and it’s only after you finish reading the whole book that you’re somewhat able to join the dots. But Patna Manual of Style is largely about the drama and amusing complexities of the Patna-immigrant-settled-in-Delhi. The writing is casual and breezy, unabashed even. All in all, it’s a familiar place for anyone who is remotely connected to literature – teachers, students, journalists, publishers, proof-readers, old bookshops – it’s all in there.