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Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss and the troubled symbolic production of a Man Booker prizewinner

Allington, Daniel



Om P. Dwivedi

Lisa Lau


Extract in lieu of an abstract:

Kiran Desai’s second novel, The Inheritance of Loss, was published by Penguin subsidiaries in India and North America in January 2006, and seven months later in the UK by Hamish Hamilton, a Penguin imprint. That same year, it won the Man Booker Prize, the UK’s most prestigious literary award, as well as the National Book Critics Circle Fiction Award, one of the three most prestigious literary prizes in the USA. However, the book also became subject to protests in the Indian town where it was partly set. These events provide an ideal opportunity for scholars to do what Sarah Brouillette argues they have too rarely done, and examine ‘the specific interconnections between the content of literary work and the circuits through which texts pass as they are produced and consumed’. In this chapter, I shall therefore focus on selected episodes from the novel’s production and reception in order to provide a rich picture of its place in the global cultural economy, and to attempt to understand the complex and conflicted position into which a literary novel positioned as ‘Indian’ must enter if it is to be accepted by the readers for whom such novels are, to use Pierre Bourdieu’s phrase, ‘objectively destined’. My starting point is Bourdieu’s analysis of cultural value as a form of belief produced through the cumulative judgements of participants in the ‘field of cultural production’, including writers, critics, publishers and (although this last group were under-emphasized by Bourdieu) prize committee members. One of the most important features distinguishing fiction from painting is its dependence (material if not symbolic) on sales to an audience beyond the field of cultural production. Popular fiction appeals directly to such a readership by furnishing it with likeable characters and entertaining plot lines in a prose style designed not to attract attention to itself; furnishing their readers with the opposite, literary novels and other forms of ‘legitimate’ culture rely on public-facing institutions for disseminating value beyond the field – that is, persuading individuals outside the field to adopt belief produced within the field. Only a consecrated minority of literary novels, referred to as ‘the canon’, can ever receive this special treatment, which is the ultimate prize for which literary authors and movements vie. (Allington, 2014: 119)


Allington, D. (2014). Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss and the troubled symbolic production of a Man Booker prizewinner. In O. P. Dwivedi, & L. Lau (Eds.), Indian Writing in English and the Global Literary Marketplace (119-139). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Acceptance Date Mar 1, 2014
Publication Date Dec 1, 2014
Deposit Date Jan 19, 2016
Publicly Available Date Jan 1, 2018
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Pages 119-139
Book Title Indian Writing in English and the Global Literary Marketplace
ISBN 9781137437709
Keywords Inheritance of Loss, Kiran Desai, Indian writing in English, postcolonial literature, sociology of literature, sociology of culture, reception, readers, reviews, Pierre Bourdieu
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