Nina Stibbe: Books of the year
Why didn’t Akhil Sharma’s ‘Family Life’ win everything?
One of my books of the year is Akhil Sharma’s Family Life (Faber & Faber). This is the story of a family’s move to the US from Delhi in the 1970s, told from the point of view of Ajay Mishra – aged eight at the outset. Aspects of his new life impress Ajay, in particular the library and the constant television, but he’s anxious about it, too.
He worries that his father is becoming too American, and he feels his older brother, Birju, is rather too popular with everyone. Thus begins the open-eyed chirruping of the child narrator. So far, so familiar. But things take a tragic turn when Birju has an accident in a swimming pool. Family Life is undeniably sad, but it’s unsentimental, truthful and funny too.
My surprise that Sharma hasn’t won a bagful of prizes with this book makes me choose it now over Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Serpent’s Tail), Colm Tóibín’s Nora Webster (Viking) and Nick Hornby’s Funny Girl (Viking), all of which I also loved very much.
Man at the Helm, by Nina Stibbe, is published by Viking