Siddhartha Mukherjee's The Emperor of All Maladies up against quartet of novels for £10,000 prize
The longlist of 10 for the prize, which goes to the best new author in any genre published in English over the last year, has now been whittled down to five books, with American oncologist Mukherjee's The Emperor of All Maladies the only non-fiction title to make the cut. Chair of judges Lisa Allardice, editor of Guardian Review, called Mukherjee's first book "incredibly impressive, exhaustively researched, inspiring rather than depressing and a really compelling read".
Juan Pablo Villalobos's Down the Rabbit Hole, a blackly comic story told from the perspective of the son of a drug baron, was voted onto the award's longlist by Guardian readers after the prize opened up its final slot to suggestions from the public for the first time. It has now been chosen by judges as one of the final five contenders for the £10,000 prize, alongside an international and eclectic group of debut novels, from Kashmiri author Mirza Waheed's shattering story of his homeland The Collaborator to American writer Amy Waldman's The Submission, which traces the fallout when a Muslim architect is chosen to design a 9/11 memorial in Manhattan. British author Stephen Kelman's Booker-shortlisted Pigeon English, told in the voice of a schoolboy as he investigates a stabbing on his local high street, completes the line-up.
"All of these novels are engaging with wider issues outside of the writers' own experiences, which is impressive in a debut," said Allardice. "The Submission is incredibly ambitious in dealing with the fallout of 9/11 and imagining a world of different cultural relationships in the aftermath. The Collaborator is a clear-sighted look at the Kashmiri wars. Even the two books which seem to be more subjective, Down the Rabbit Hole and Pigeon English, which are told from a child's eye view – both are engaged with what it means to be underprivileged in society."
Allardice's fellow judge David Nicholls, author of the bestselling novel One Day, said all five titles were "ambitious, informative and hugely entertaining". "It's difficult to believe that these are all first books," he added.
The panel of judges, which also includes the authors Antonia Fraser and Sarah Churchwell, Waterstone's Stuart Broom and Guardian deputy editor Katharine Viner, worked with Waterstone's reading groups from across the UK to come up with their shortlist.
Broom said it was the fiction on the longlist which caused "the most passionate disagreements", with readers "fiercely divided" over what makes a great novel. "Many of the readers were particularly sensitive to the challenges involved in telling a convincing story from a child's perspective and it's great that the two writers that have attempted this have made it on to the shortlist," he said.
The winner of the prize, presented in association with Davidstow, will be announced next month, joining former Guardian First Book award winners including Jonathan Safran Foer, Zadie Smith and last year's triumphant writer Alexandra Harris, who won for her non-fiction title Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper.
Pigeon English, Stephen Kelman (Bloomsbury)
The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee (Fourth Estate)
Down The Rabbit Hole, Juan Pablo Villalobos (And Other Stories)
The Collaborator, Mirza Waheed (Viking)
The Submission, Amy Waldman (William Heinemann)