literary awards

A reader from India has picked his Man Booker shortlist before the jury does

No, Arundhati Roy’s novel is not in there.

On September 13, the 13-book longlist for the Man Booker Prize will be whittled down to six by the five-member jury chaired by Baroness Lola Young. But before that, a reader decided to read all 13 titles on the longlist and pick his own shortlist. Over to our one-person jury:

I endeavoured to read the Man Booker longlist in its entirety in 2016. By the time the winner – Paul Beatty’s The Sellout was announced, I had read nine books out of the 13. This year I finished reading the longlist a fortnight before the shortlist is to be announced.

This is my 2017 Man Booker shortlist:

Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire is a modernist retelling of the Greek Tragedy Antigone. The story is set in Massachusetts, London, Syria, and Karachi, and is about five principal characters, siblings Isma, Aneeka, and Parvaiz, and father and son Karamat and Eamonn Lone. Aneeka’s twin brother Parvaiz has joined the media wing of ISIS. Karamat Lone is the Home Secretary in Londonn. The story unfolds like an impending disaster. Shamsie’s writing is sharp, assured and evocative.

The novel weaves a complex thread of family, loyalty, faith, and society. Home Fire takes a few chances with the structure of Antigone, for there is no incest or fratricide here, but these risks make this novel tighter in both plot and structure. This, along with Ali Smith’s Autumn, is a very current novel.


An ode to Irish pastoral life, Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones is elegiac, and structurally confident. The novel starts on November 2, 2008, All Souls’ Day. This is contextually important, with the Angelus bell tolling, signifying the ascension of souls to heaven. The narrator is Marcus Conway, a civil engineer who works for the local council and lives in Louisburgh, County Mayo, Ireland.

The entire novel is one single sentence, broken up in paragraphs. McCormack writes with verve. His voice is poetic, and he uses it to reminisce about many things – the life of his parents, meeting his wife, their life together, his children growing up, and his career. As you start reading Solar Bones, you quickly forget the narrative quirk and get immersed in the story. The prose has an immediacy and a poignancy that is haunting.


A daring entry to the longlist is Fiona Mozley’s Elmet. The story is narrated by Daniel, an effeminate teenage boy who is on the run. The two other main characters are his father John, a giant of a man, a bareknuckle fighter, and his sister Cathy. John builds a house in a copse. The family hunts and largely live off the land. The land owner is Price, and the confrontation that is built up is both brutal and explosive.

The novel grapples with themes of rural exploitation and creeping poverty in a working-class neighbourhood in an area where coal mining has run aground. The language of the narrator sticks to a rural, Yorkshire dialect. The tone of the novel is modern Gothic and this lends the narrative a savage beauty.


Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 is ostensibly about a 13-year-old girl named Rebecca Shaw. Rebecca’s family is holidaying in a village in the Peak District for the New Year when she goes missing. The novel takes us on a cyclical, circuitous path through changing seasons, weather, flora and fauna. We are meant to see the effects of Rebecca’s disappearance on the evolution of lives of the villagers.

McGregor has a panoramic eye for nature and its rhythms. He writes about rural life in an unfussy manner. The effect of this prismatic, cyclical change is spellbinding as it keeps the readers focussed. The novel may be termed “plotless” by some, but its narrative journey is the true reward.


Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End is the story of Thomas McNulty, a young lad who flees poverty and hunger in Ireland and ends up enlisting in the US Army of the 1850s. With his friend and lover, John Cole, Thomas fights in both the Indian Wars and the Civil War. The men endure terrible hardships and suffering during their tumultuous lives.

The tone of the novel is moving and despite the horrors of war, the writing remains remarkably fluid and beautiful. It confronts issues of cruelty, justice, identity, and belonging in a remarkably non-judgemental vein.


Ali Smith’s Autumn is the first of a series of seasonal novels she plans to write. Autumn is a novel on pop art and friendship, set firmly in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. Elizabeth is a 32-year-old contractual junior lecturer at a London University, and the novel is about her relationship with Daniel, a 101-year-old man, now in a care home. Smith cleverly juxtaposes the current political climate with the Profumo scandal of 1963 and the pop art of Pauline Boty. Autumn is often wry, absurdist and melancholic.


The other two novels that were contenders on my list were Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness fuses fluid writing with politics and modern Indian history. The two halves of the novel never really come together.

Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad is a powerful narrative. The understated writing shines a light on slavery in the South. But it unravels towards the end, bringing it to an unsatisfactory conclusion.

The novels included in my shortlist showcase themes of identity, loss, community, politics, indigenous Indians and their sacred land, faith, and loyalty. All the six novels are beautifully written and are a rare combination of art and craft. This is a shortlist which chooses itself.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Virat Kohli and Ola come together to improve Delhi's air quality

The onus of curbing air-pollution is on citizens as well

A recent study by The Lancet Journal revealed that outdoor pollution was responsible for 6% of the total disease burden in India in 2016. As a thick smog hangs low over Delhi, leaving its residents gasping for air, the pressure is on the government to implement SOS measures to curb the issue as well as introduce long-term measures to improve the air quality of the state. Other major cities like Mumbai, Pune and Kolkata should also acknowledge the gravitas of the situation.

The urgency of the air-pollution crisis in the country’s capital is being reflected on social media as well. A recent tweet by Virat Kohli, Captain of the Indian Cricket Team, urged his fans to do their bit in helping the city fight pollution. Along with the tweet, Kohli shared a video in which he emphasized that curbing pollution is everyone’s responsibility. Apart from advocating collective effort, Virat Kohli’s tweet also urged people to use buses, metros and Ola share to help reduce the number of vehicles on the road.

In the spirit of sharing the responsibility, ride sharing app Ola responded with the following tweet.

To demonstrate its commitment to fight the problem of vehicular pollution and congestion, Ola is launching #ShareWednesdays : For every ​new user who switches to #OlaShare in Delhi, their ride will be free. The offer by Ola that encourages people to share resources serves as an example of mobility solutions that can reduce the damage done by vehicular pollution. This is the fourth leg of Ola’s year-long campaign, #FarakPadtaHai, to raise awareness for congestion and pollution issues and encourage the uptake of shared mobility.

In 2016, WHO disclosed 10 Indian cities that made it on the list of worlds’ most polluted. The situation necessitates us to draw from experiences and best practices around the world to keep a check on air-pollution. For instance, a system of congestion fees which drivers have to pay when entering central urban areas was introduced in Singapore, Oslo and London and has been effective in reducing vehicular-pollution. The concept of “high occupancy vehicle” or car-pool lane, implemented extensively across the US, functions on the principle of moving more people in fewer cars, thereby reducing congestion. The use of public transport to reduce air-pollution is another widely accepted solution resulting in fewer vehicles on the road. Many communities across the world are embracing a culture of sustainable transportation by investing in bike lanes and maintenance of public transport. Even large corporations are doing their bit to reduce vehicular pollution. For instance, as a participant of the Voluntary Traffic Demand Management project in Beijing, Lenovo encourages its employees to adopt green commuting like biking, carpooling or even working from home. 18 companies in Sao Paulo executed a pilot program aimed at reducing congestion by helping people explore options such as staggering their hours, telecommuting or carpooling. After the pilot, drive-alone rates dropped from 45-51% to 27-35%.

It’s the government’s responsibility to ensure that the growth of a country doesn’t compromise the natural environment that sustains it, however, a substantial amount of responsibility also lies on each citizen to lead an environment-friendly lifestyle. Simple lifestyle changes such as being cautious about usage of electricity, using public transport, or choosing locally sourced food can help reduce your carbon footprint, the collective impact of which is great for the environment.

Ola is committed to reducing the impact of vehicular pollution on the environment by enabling and encouraging shared rides and greener mobility. They have also created flat fare zones across Delhi-NCR on Ola Share to make more environment friendly shared rides also more pocket-friendly. To ensure a larger impact, the company also took up initiatives with City Traffic Police departments, colleges, corporate parks and metro rail stations.

Join the fight against air-pollution by using the hashtag #FarakPadtaHai and download Ola to share your next ride.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Ola and not by the Scroll editorial team.