V. V Ganeshananthan reflects on winning the 2024 Women’s Prize for Fiction

V. V Ganeshananthan, author of the critically acclaimed novel Brotherless Night, granted an interview to harpersbazaar.com the morning after her remarkable win at the 2024 Women’s Prize for Fiction. “Now that’s a question that needs more coffee,” she quipped, rubbing her eyes. “Or maybe some therapy!”

Brotherless Night, her second novel, tells the story of Sashi, a young Tamil woman whose dreams of becoming a doctor are shattered by the outbreak of the Sri Lankan war. When asked about the origins of her characters, Ganeshananthan responded, “If you put enough work into the pages, they’re alive in a way that moves them forward almost without you. If you permit the pages to be alive in that way, you have to almost let go.”

As an author and a creative writing teacher, Ganeshananthan is well-versed in the nuances of storytelling. “I teach an MFA programme and I think people think that means we create some sort of false structure that you have to fake yourself,” she said. “But the best workshop will teach you how to recognise your instincts and to trust them.”

Ganeshananthan’s journey with Brotherless Night spanned two decades, driven by her determination to tell a story often avoided or discouraged. “I was really angry,” she admitted, explaining the motivation behind her perseverance. Her acceptance speech humorously acknowledged her agent’s patience over the 20-year writing process.

The novel’s unflinching portrayal of war’s brutality and moral complexities earned high praise from the judges. Monica Ali, chair of the judging panel, lauded Ganeshananthan’s “commitment to complexity” and the novel’s “clear-eyed moral scrutiny.” Ganeshananthan emphasised her focus on Tamil civilian women’s experiences while conveying a plurality of viewpoints.

Brotherless Night also honours women in warzones. Sashi evolves from a medic to a documenter of atrocities. Ganeshananthan has written about the parallels between various conflicts and the Sri Lankan civil war, noting the vital role women play in memory and archiving.

“There’s this very old-school notion that writing shouldn’t be political, and good luck to those people [who believe that],” she laughed. “Everything is political. I don’t think that the events of our lives are separate from politics, or history.”

Ganeshananthan’s win follows her first novel, Love Marriage, which was longlisted for the Women’s Prize in 2008. She expressed her gratitude for the award’s impact, acknowledging that it provides crucial visibility in a challenging literary landscape.

Reflecting on the ceremony, which also honoured Naomi Klein with the inaugural Women’s Prize for Nonfiction, Ganeshananthan discussed the persistent undervaluation of women’s work in publishing. “I think so frequently, women are not taken seriously. And then when I am taken seriously, I’m always a little taken aback,” she said.

With a laugh, she entertained the idea of using the Women’s Prize trophy, affectionately called ‘Bessie,’ to assert her credibility. “I’ll just slam her down on the table and say, ‘If you have any questions, address them to Bessie.’”


  • Featured image: V.V Ganeshananthan at the Turin Book Fair Italy/Leonardo Cendamo/Getty Images


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