Surprise Party: Indra Sinha on His Unexpected Journey to the Booker Prize Shortlist
Sinha, Indra, New Statesman (1996)
We were having dinner with some friends who'd just driven up from Spain, ten of us round the table, when the phone rang. It was another friend demanding that we switch on the BBC. "Sir Howard Davies is on Radio 4 and you've been longlisted for the Booker."
The news sounded extremely unlikely. I knew Animal's People had been entered, but had since forgotten all about it. "He definitely mentioned your book," my friend insisted. I returned to the table and as calmly as I could told the others. Let's not get too excited, he's probably got it all wrong. A quarter of an hour later the phone rang again and this time it was my sister Umi who is never wrong.
It was rather wonderful news because Animal's People had a disappointing start. One review in the UK, a couple in India. As time went by it became clear that there weren't going to be any more. No one had heard of the book, friends couldn't find it in the shops, Indian booksellers denied all knowledge of it. It was set to vanish without trace, a fate that overtakes so many novels. On Amazon it was ranked somewhere around 220,000. Once, when a kind friend bought six copies, it jumped 200,000 places.
The British review appeared in the New Statesman, which in the 1950s, under the editorship of John Freeman, had published a number of my mother's short stories. When I was a student at Cambridge I dug out the old issues in the university library and discovered that another of John Freeman's up-and-coming young writers was one Doris Lessing.
The immediate effect of being longlisted was that people started talking about the book. From India, where previously it had been impossible to drum up any interest, came a stream of telephone calls wanting interviews. Some sent questionnaires they demanded back by return. I gratefully obliged. Anything to gain the novel a chance of being read.
At the Edinburgh Book Festival my reading was sold out, a welcome change from last time when I believe it was festival staff gallantly making up most of the audience of ten. I apologised to the audience for the foulness of narrator Animal's language, but someone said to me later that they thought I was more shocked by it than anyone else. …