April 07, 2020
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“Hastily conceived, poorly executed, with one eye on a litprize and the other on bestseller charts.” Hmm, now what may this be?


Curtain’s Backside

Did you take the sex test yet? The quiz by a UK paper challenging you to identify an author’s sex from a single para, like V.S. Naipaul claims he can. I did, and scored a miserable four out of ten. Last year, Manu Joseph made a similar claim at the launch of his Serious Men. According to him, there is always An Upholstery Moment that gives away the female author—when an author puts in the colour of the sofa set or describes the curtains. It’s true—when you come across a description of a man in “faded jeans and untucked tan chamois shirt...brown curly hair, a light stubble, piercing green eyes framed by laugh wrinkles”—you know it’s been written by a woman. But what it says about gender difference in literature is that male authors are generally colour-blind and pay little attention to sartorial and facial detail.

We Were There

Another gender giveaway was a para about a couple at a picnic. She’s packed not only a bottle of lemonade, cheese sandwitches and a hard-boiled egg, but some salt to go with it. And when he thanks her, it’s for “remembering everything”. Male readers may have trouble recognising the sex of this author but I bet every woman from every culture around the world can get this one right.

Fiction Slush

The Crossword Book Awards longlist (111 books for the fiction prize alone, from every possible genre: chicklit, ladlit, haglit, non-lit) reminds me of what one of the judges said about the quality of Indian novels being put up for prizes: “hastily conceived, poorly executed, with one eye on a litprize and the other on bestseller charts.” Result? Judges are being forced to pick the book they least dislike.

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