British Indian writer and academic Preti Taneja’s retelling of William Shakespeare’s play King Lear, called We That Are Young, won the Desmond Elliott Prize for debut novelists on Wednesday.

British author Sarah Perry, who chaired the team of judges, said Taneja’s ambition was “breath-taking”, BBC reported. Taneja won £10,000 (approximately Rs 9 lakh) in prize money. The runners up were Gail Honeyman, for Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and Paula Cocozza, for How to Be Human.

“We were struck by how three such different books could all deal with, and comment on, the themes of loneliness and isolation,” Perry said. The judges said the books were “bravely and urgently about the way we live now”.

We That Are Young is about an Indian business dynasty headed by an autocratic patriarch surrounded by family and supporters who don’t dare to defy him. The book takes on homosexuality, female sexual liberation, pressures of a single-parent household, caste, treatment of domestic help, violence, god-men and madness.

Of Taneja’s work, Perry said: “I loved the sheer ambition of the book – the idea that for her first book, she said: ‘I’m going to rewrite King Lear as a multi-voice novel, set in contemporary India’.”

“It’s awe-inspiring, and she totally managed to carry it off. It’s just incredible. The fact it had such huge ambition is breath-taking,” Perry said, adding that the judges asked themselves: “If this is her first novel, what extraordinary work will come next?”