Annal: 1997 Whitbread Book Award for First Novel

Results of the Whitbread Book Award in the year 1997.

Book:The Ventriloquist's Tale

The Ventriloquist's Tale

Pauline Melville

Pauline Melville conjures up vivid pictures both of savanna and forest and of city life in South America where love is often trumped by disaster. Unforgettable characters illuminate theme and plot: Sonny, the strange, beautiful and isolate son of Beatrice and Danny, the brother and sister who have a passionate affair at the time of the solar eclipse in 1919; Father Napier, the sandy-haired evangelist whom the Indians perceive as a giant grasshopper; Chofy McKinnon the modern Indian, torn between savanna life and urban future. This is a novel that embraces nearly a century, large in scope but intimate as a whisper, where laughter is never far from the scene of tragedy; a parable of miscegenation and racial elusiveness, of nature defying culture, magic confronting rationalism and of the eternally rebellious nature of love.

Book:Beach Boy

Beach Boy

Ardashir Vakil

In this remarkable first novel, eight-year-old Cyrus Readymoney introduces us to his magical universe of movies and mischief; tennis tournaments and truant afternoons; sex and samosas; the sea and the shore. Exploring Bombay in the early 1970s, Cyrus strays from his mostly absent parents, members of the Parsi elite, into the complex world of his neighbors, including a mysterious maharani and her seductive adopted daughter. In his travels, he experiences the splendor of Hindi films and delights in all manner of mouthwatering food.

But in the course of his wanderings, Cyrus finds himself caught between the innocence and insouciance of his youth and the responsibility and worry that await him in adulthood. When his parents’ marriage falls apart and his family is shattered, Cyrus is forced out of his carefree existence into a more severe reality. …[more]

Book:Eclipse of the Sun

Eclipse of the Sun

Phil Whitaker

A wryly amusing story of one man’s frenzied attempts to win over the woman of his dreams, despite his wife’s best efforts to keep him. Rajesh Despande, science teacher in the small Indian town of Nandrapur, is thrown into a frenzy of fantasy by the arrival of a beautiful young English teacher at his school. Modern, articulate, educated in Britain, she is the woman of his dreams. If only he can find a way to make her feel the same…India is just weeks away from a solar eclipse, and Rajesh feels this is the perfect event to help him capture the heart of the beguiling young English teacher. But it is not long before his wife realises his adulterous intentions and is forced into a desperate attempt to save her marriage. But it is an encounter with a mysterious female teacher in a bookshop that sets in train a series of events which will change the marriage forever.

Book:One Day As A Tiger

One Day As A Tiger

Anne Haverty

The last two turbulent decades of the British Raj in India is the exciting setting for an unusual saga of romance and colour imaginatively conceived by an author who lived there at the time. Not another story about India? Yes, because India has the wealth of material to support new writers till the end of time. Seen through new eyes, another rich Indian feast is spread before you. Sadhus and snake charmers, sorcerers and secret, service agents, weave an unusual tale, set in the romantic era of the British Raj. A God descends to earth in human form, taking us from forests inhabited by cobras and tigers to the opulent palaces of wealthy Maharajas. We are escorted through the “Valley of the Gods”, and introduced to violence and black magic before the chilling conclusion.

Book:Underground Man

Underground Man

Mick Jackson

William John Cavendish Bentinck Scott, the fifth Duke of Portland, who died in 1879, was a singularly eccentric man. What sets him apart from other famous eccentrics is the fact that he had the wealth to indulge his manias to the fullest. Perhaps his greatest achievement was to have a vast network of underground tunnels built beneath his estate, from which, with his horses and carriages, he could secretly escape to the outside world. On a visit to the Duke’s establishment, which still more or less stands, Mick Jackson became fascinated not only by the tunnels but by the stories that surrounded the memory of this strange man. He began to embroider them with fictional ideas of his own, and with the tales the local people passed on to him. Some of the characters’ names in the book are genuine, as indeed are some of the most bizarre details. The actual narrative is, however, pure invention, filled not only with tales of the Duke, but also with the excitement and discoveries of the age in which he lived, and the mysteries that we are still exploring.

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