The 2010 Costa Book Awards Shortlist
Costa First Novel Award
Witness the Night by Kishwar Desai
In a small town in the heart of India, a young girl, barely alive, is found in a sprawling home where thirteen people lie dead. The girl has been beaten and abused. She is held in the local prison, awaiting interrogation for the murders that the local police believe she has committed. But an unconventional visiting social worker, Simran Singh, is convinced of her innocence and attempts to break through the girl’s mute trance to find out what happened that terrible night. As she slowly uncovers the truth, Simran realises that she is caught in the middle of a terrifying reality where the unwanted female offspring of families are routinely disposed of. Kishwar Desai lives in London with her husband, Lord (Meghnad) Desai. She has written a non-fiction book, Darleeingji, and has previously worked in journalism and TV.
Judges: “Kishwar Desai pulls off a remarkable trick, transplanting a country house murder to modern day India in a book that’s not afraid to tackle serious themes.”
Coconut Unlimited by Nikesh Shukla
It’s Harrow in the 1990s, and Amit, Anand and Nishant are stuck. Their peers think they’re a bunch of try-hard darkies, acting street and pretending to be cool, while their community thinks they’re rich toffs, a long way from the ‘real’ Asians in Southall. So, to keep it real, they form legendary hip-hop band ‘Coconut Unlimited’. Pity they can’t rap… From struggling to find records in the suburbs and rehearsing on rubbish equipment, to evading the clutches of disapproving parents and real life drug-dealing gangsters, Coconut Unlimited documents every teenage boy’s dream and the motivations behind it: being in a band to look pretty cool – oh, and to get girls… Nikesh Shukla is an author, filmmaker and poet. His writing has featured on BBC-2, BBC Radio 1 and 4 and the BBC Asian Network and he’s currently working on a sit-com for Channel 4. His film, The Great Identity Swindle, co-directed with Videowallah, won best short film at the Satyajit Ray Foundation Awards in 2009. He is married and lives in London.
Judges: “A laugh-out-loud, toe-curlingly funny, coming-of-age book from a brilliant young British talent. By the end, you’ll feel ‘down with the kids’.”
The Temple-Goers by Aatish Taseer
A young man returns home to Delhi after several years abroad and resumes his place among the city’s cosmopolitan elite – a world of fashion designers, media moguls and the idle rich. But everything around him has changed – new roads, new restaurants, new money, new crime – everything, that is, except for the people, who are the same, only maybe slightly worse. Then he meets Aakash, a charismatic and unpredictable young man on the make, who introduces him to the squalid underside of this sprawling city. When Aakash is arrested for murder, the two of them are suddenly swept up in a politically sensitive investigation that exposes the true corruption at the heart of this new and ruthless society. Aatish Taseer was born in Delhi in 1980. He has written for various publications including Time Magazine and the Sunday Times. He has also written a travel memoir, Stranger to History: a Son’s Journey through Islamic Lands (2009), an investigation into his troubled family history and estranged father, and a highly acclaimed translation: Manto: Selected Stories. He lives in London and Delhi.
Judges: “We loved Aatish Taseer’s audacious and disturbing multi-layered story of modern Delhi.”
Not Quite White by Simon Thirsk
The young Jon Bull is sent be Westminster to Wales’s last remaining Welsh-speaking town to see why all attempts to bring it into the twenty-first century have failed. Waiting for him is the beautiful but embittered Gwalia….. Not Quite White explores the complex tensions generated when English colonialism meets Welsh nationalism. A passionate defence of cultural and political identity, and a considered plea for tolerance, it is also a sustained attack on the forces of small-town bigotry and corruption. Above all, it is an acknowledgement of the subtleties and ambiguities that exist in even the most entrenched attitudes. Simon Thirsk is Chairman and a founder director of Bloodaxe Books. He has worked as a journalist, lecturer and charity co-ordinator and has an Honours Degree in Philosophy. His TV drama’s Small Zones and No, I’m Not Afraid were both broadcast on BBC-2. Thirsk was born in Brentford, Middlesex, but now lives in Bala, North Wales and is a fluent Welsh speaker.
Judges: “We all found this romantic culture clash novel a delight, endlessly funny and constantly surprising.”
Costa Novel Award
Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty
When two police officers knock on Laura’s door, her life changes forever. Her nine-year-old daughter Betty has been hit by a car and killed, and Laura is left both devastated and desperate for revenge against the man responsible for Betty’s death. Laura’s grief re-opens old wounds and she is thrown back to the story of her passionate love affair with Betty’s father David, their marriage and his subsequent affair with another woman. Haunted by her past, and driven to breaking point by her desire for retribution, Laura discovers the lengths she is willing to go to for love. Louise Doughty is the author of five novels and one non-fiction book, A Novel in a Year, based on her hugely popular Daily Telegraph column. Doughty also writes radio plays and journalism and broadcasts regularly for BBC Radio 4, as well as teaching for the Faber Academy. She lives in London.
Judges: “A raw, compelling story told with savage beauty. Difficult to read but impossible to put down.”
The Blasphemer by Nigel Farndale
On its way to the Galapagos Islands, a light aircraft ditches into the sea. As the water floods through the cabin, zoologist Daniel Kennedy faces an impossible choice – should he save himself, or Nancy, the woman he loves? In a parallel narrative, it is 1917 and Daniel’s great-grandfather Andrew is preparing to go over the top at Passchendaele. He, too, will have his courage tested, and must live with the moral consequences of his actions. Back in London, the atheistic Daniel is wrestling with something his ‘cold philosophy’ cannot explain – something unearthly he thought he saw while swimming for help in the Pacific. But before he can make sense of it, the past must collapse into the present, and both he and Andrew must prove themselves capable of altruism, and deserving of forgiveness. Nigel Farndale is the author of Haw-Haw: The Tragedy of William and Margaret Joyce which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Biography Award and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. Other published work includes a collection of his award-winning interviews – with Hillary Clinton, Paul McCartney and Stephen Hawking, amongst others. He lives on the Hampshire-Sussex border with his wife and their three children.
Judges: “A novel of remarkable ambition that reads like a thriller. Strange, unforgettable and morally courageous.”
The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell
Fresh out of university and in disgrace, Lexie Sinclair is waiting for life to begin. When the bohemian, sophisticated Innes Kent turns up by chance on her doorstep in rural Devon, she realises that she can wait no longer, and leaves for London. There, at the heart of the 1950s Soho art scene, Lexie carves out a new life for herself with Innes at her side. In the present day, Elina and Ted are reeling from the difficult birth of their first child. As Elina struggles to reconcile the demands of motherhood with her sense of herself as an artist, Ted is disturbed by memories of his own childhood – memories that don’t tally with his parents’ version of events. As Ted begins to search for answers, so an extraordinary portrait of two women is revealed. Separated by fifty years, Lexie and Elina are connected in ways that neither of them could ever have expected? Maggie O’Farrell is the author of four previous novels, After You’d Gone, My Lover’s Lover, The Distance Between Us, which won a Somerset Maugham Award, and The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. She lives in Edinburgh with her partner and their two children.
Judges: “A powerful story full of dynamic characters, crafted with panache and lyricism.”
Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
Ruprecht Van Doren is an overweight genius whose hobbies include very difficult maths and the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Daniel ‘Skippy’ Juster is his roommate. In the grand old Dublin institution that is Seabrook College for Boys, nobody pays either of them much attention. But when Skippy falls for Lori, the Frisbee-playing Siren from the girls’ school next door, suddenly all kinds of people take an interest – including Carl, part-time drug-dealer and official school psychopath. While his teachers battle over modernisation and Ruprecht attempts to open a portal into a parallel universe, Skippy, in the name of love, is heading for a showdown – in the form of a fatal doughnut-eating race that only one person will survive. This unlikely tragedy will explode Seabrook’s century-old complacency and bring all kinds of secrets into the light. Paul Murray was born in 1975 and lives in Dublin. His first novel, An Evening of Long Goodbyes, was shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award in 2003 and was nominated for the Kerry Irish Fiction Award. Skippy Dies was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2010.
Judges: “Profound, challenging and shocking – a generous romp with a tender heart. Murray does a tremendous job of penetrating the adolescent psyche.”