Chetna Maroo was born in Kenya and lives in London. Her stories have appeared in anthologies and have been published in the Paris Review, the Stinging Fly and the Dublin Review
She was the recipient of the 2022 Plimpton Prize for Fiction, awarded annually since 1993 by the Paris Review to celebrate an outstanding piece of fiction by an emerging writer published in the magazine during the preceding year. Before becoming a full-time writer, she worked as an accountant. Western Lane, which is shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2023, is her first novel.
It took three years. I write slowly, the first pages in longhand, then typing. I usually try to get each sentence and paragraph sounding right before I go on, reading and editing from the beginning of the story. My own process seems unwise to me because I know I’ll eventually cut sections that I’ve spent weeks or months going over, but I have no other way. I have to trust that the work will benefit in the end from the rhythm and slow quality of this attention.
In the novel we see the world through the eyes of eleven-year-old Gopi. She and her sisters have recently lost their mother. Their pa is bereft and struggling to parent his daughters. At the same time, the girls’ aunt and uncle watch the family, hoping to help Pa by taking one of the girls to raise as their own. As I was writing, I was feeling my way. I didn’t have a plot or outline for the whole novel, but I had a sense that the story would turn on this one question: would Pa bring himself to let one of his daughters go?
I write at my desk at home. To my left is a wardrobe, to my right above my desk the exhibition poster from the Dulwich Picture Gallery’s Tove Jansson retrospective, showing Moomintroll standing in an open window looking out into the dark.
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Skilfully deploying the sport of squash as both context and metaphor, Western Lane is a deeply evocative debut about a family grappling with grief, conveyed through crystalline language which reverberates like the sound “of a ball hit clean and hard…with a close echo”— The Booker Prize 2023 judges on Western Lane