The End of The Folio Affair

on Saturday, April 18, 2015
Big breath. Big breath.

I realise that I'm a little late to the party here but I've been mulling this over for a couple of weeks now and, hard as it is for me to admit it, I'm just going to have to accept that The Folio Prize and I are never going to be friends. The excitement I felt, the anticipation of the David and Goliath battle with The Booker Prize, the deliriously happy marriage I rushed into. All over.

And... exhale.

You probably already know that the prize was recently awarded to Akhil Sharma for his twelve-year-in-the-making Family Life. William Fiennes, chair of judges, could not have been more laudatory if he tried:

"From a shortlist of which we are enormously proud, Akhil Sharma’s lucid, compassionate, quietly funny account of one family’s life across continents and cultures, emerged as our winner. Family Life is a masterful novel of distilled complexity: about catastrophe and survival; attachment and independence; the tension between selfishness and responsibility. We loved its deceptive simplicity and rare warmth. More than a decade in the writing, this is a work of art that expands with each re-reading and a novel that will endure."

I, on the other hand, bestowed a somewhat different honour upon it last year, when it came in alongside Murakami's latest offering as the equally most overrated book of 2014. You may perhaps recall my little spray:

"I was at a loss to understand the plaudits poured upon Akhil Sharma's slim offering, Family Life. It supposedly took him ten or twelve or twenty (or some other multiple of a ferret's average life span) years to complete and drew heavily from his personal experience of grief and dislocation. Stripped of its forest of laurels it is a fair to middling shrub of a novel about the immigrant experience. I can't help but feel that Sharma has a lot of friends in high places, none of whom could muster the guts to tell him that those umpteen years might have been better spent working on something else."

So what gives, Folio? Last year you gave it to George Saunders for Tenth of December and I bitched and moaned. That too had made my end of year list in 2013, also being named the most overrated book of the year. Am I that far off track? Have I become the accidental predictor of all future Folio Prizes? If so, might I suggest putting some early moolah on Ishiguro? Or maybe third time will be a charm. Just kidding, I'm sure I'll be wildly off mark again.


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