Guy Gunaratne wins Dylan Thomas prize for 'urgent' London novel

British-Sri Lankan’s debut In Our Mad and Furious City, set on a housing estate during riots sparked by the murder of a British soldier, wins £30,000 award

Debut novelist Guy Gunaratne has won the £30,000 Swansea University International Dylan Thomas prize for In Our Mad and Furious City, an “urgent, timely and compelling” account of life on a London housing estate during city-wide riots.

The British-Sri Lankan writer, 35, who is also a human-rights documentary film-maker, was also longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker prize and won this year’s Jhalak prize for the novel. It is set over the 48-hour period after a British soldier is murdered by a black man, and told through the voices of “those with elsewhere in their blood”.

“Once in a while, a work of fiction appears that uses voice, style and story, as only works of the imagination can, to let us enter, to makes us see, to demand we understand lives and circumstances seldom given that centre-stage position in our contemporary culture and society,” said Professor Dai Smith, chair of the prize’s judging panel. “This is what Guy Gunaratne’s stunning multi-voice debut novel In Our Mad and Furious City sets out to do and bravely achieves for marginal lives, young and old, in the unforgiving whirlpool of London today.”

The £30,000 prize was established in memory of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and goes to the best literary work in English by a writer aged 39 – the age of Thomas when he died – or under. It has previously been won by Kayo Chingonyi’s poetry collection Kumukanda, Max Porter’s Grief Is the Thing With Feathers and Fiona McFarlane’s collection of short stores, The High Places. Gunaratne beat titles including Sarah Perry’s novel Melmoth, House of Stone by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, and Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah to win this year’s award.

In an interview with the Observer in 2018, the author said that the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby by two Islamic extremists in 2013 was part of the inspiration for his story. “It was a spur, for sure,” he said. “I was in Finland when it happened, and that video of [killer] Michael Adebolajo did the rounds, where he’s covered in blood. I remember being shocked, not really by the event, but by the fact that he was talking the way I did, and was dressed the same way kids from my school were dressed. Even his mannerisms and the way he carried himself looked familiar. It was terrorism, just way too close to home.”

The author said the worst thing he could have done would have been to write a story about how a young man is radicalised, “because that’s not what was disturbing. What was disturbing is me identifying with him. You’re not supposed to identify with monsters. Instead I wanted to refract that feeling of being disturbed through five different voices, so each character confronts their own version of extremism.”


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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