The re-telling of King Lear is the second book from independent publisher Galley Beggar Press to receive the Prize, following Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing in 2014
Preti Taneja has won the eleventh annual Desmond Elliott Prize, the “UK’s most prestigious award for first-time novelists” (the Daily Telegraph), it has been announced this evening (20th June). Taneja takes home the £10,000 Prize for her “awe-inspiring” debut novel, We That Are Young, beating fellow shortlisted authors, Gail Honeyman (Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine) and Paula Cocozza (How to Be Human).
A retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear set in modern-day India, We That Are Young explores the play’s themes of severed relationships and warring families against the backdrop of the 2011 anti-corruption riots in India. It follows a central cast of characters as they react to ageing patriarch Devraj’s decision to pass control of ‘the Company’ to his three daughters, Gargi, Radha and Sita.
The novel was chosen as the best debut of the year by a judging panel chaired by Sarah Perry, author of The Essex Serpent (2016 Waterstones Book of the Year), who was joined by award-winning broadcaster, Samira Ahmed and Waterstones’ head of fiction and publisher liaison, Chris White.
Taneja’s triumph marks the second time independent publisher Galley Beggar Press has produced a Desmond Elliott Prize-winning novel. The first was Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing in 2014, which also won the Women’s Prize for Fiction and went on to become a major commercial and critical success. The Norwich-based Press publishes just four novels a year and is run by co-founders and husband-and-wife-duo, Sam Jordison and Eloise Millar.
In a speech at the Prize ceremony, Sarah Perry said, “Samira, Chris and myself were absolutely unanimous in our love and admiration for this novel, whose scope, ambition, skill and wisdom was, quite simply, awe-inspiring … all three of us sat together, shaking our heads, saying, ‘If this is her first novel, what extraordinary work will come next?’”
Before trying her hand at fiction writing, Taneja was a human rights correspondent and reported on Iraq and in Jordan, Rwanda, and Kosovo. Her work has been published in various titles including the Guardian, the New Statesman and Open Democracy. Taneja was born in the UK to Indian parents and spent many childhood holidays in New Delhi.
The Chairman of the Prize’s Trustees, Dallas Manderson said, “It is with great pride and privilege that my fellow Trustees and I present our judges’ choice of winner this year. We That Are Young is exactly the kind of novel that the Desmond Elliott Prize exists to discover and promote; this extraordinarily accomplished debut has flown somewhat under the radar thus far, not having received the attention and wide-spread acclaim that it so rightly deserves. Our hope is that winning the Prize will help guarantee Preti’s long-term future as an author, as we’re sure it will be bright.”
He continued, “It is particularly gratifying, too, to witness the on-going success of Galley Beggar Press. I know Desmond, who launched his own independent publishing house, Arlington Books, and dedicated his career to promoting new writers, would be delighted to see that a Prize in his name is championing similarly small-but-mighty institutions.”
The Desmond Elliott Prize has a track record of spotting exceptionally talented novelists at the very beginning of their careers. Last year, the Prize was awarded to Francis Spufford for his debut novel, Golden Hill, and other past-winners include Lisa McInerney, Claire Fuller and Eimear McBride.
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