Walking into the prize ceremony for the Man Booker Prize in the knowledge that you could win one of the most prestigious literary prizes in the world should be the crowning moment in the career of any novelist writing in English.
But ask Neel Mukherjee whether he’s looking forward to his book, The Lives of Others, battling with works from the feted American author Joshua Ferris or the venerable past winner Howard Jacobson on Tuesday, and the response is close to total bafflement.
“What kind of question is that anyway?” he counters. “Of course I’m not. It’s going to be completely stressful.”
Thankfully, Mukherjee – who was born in India and now lives in the United Kingdom – is being playful. The tinge of nerves only comes from the fact that he feels “stunned” that The Lives of Others could even be in the same company as Ali Smith’s How to Be Both, a book he’s not afraid to call “absolutely sublime”.
Mukherjee shouldn’t be so bashful: his follow-up to the award-winning Past Continuous (retitled A Life Apart in some countries) is a wonderfully rich novel taking on Indian family history and politics in the late 1960s.