Earlier this summer, the Guardian asked book lovers to weigh in on what title was excluded from publishers' entries for the Guardian First Book Award. While the one hundred thirty six formally submitted titles are still being read and considered, readers' recommendations have helped the prize committee select its first book for the longlist. After "lively debate" and "a fair amount of logrolling," Mexican-born author Juan Pablo Villalobos's novel, Down the Rabbit Hole, translated by Rosalind Harvey, was chosen for the first of ten semifinalist spots.
Villalobos's debut, a look at Latin America's narcotics culture from the perspective of a drug baron's son, was published in England by a new small press, And Other Stories. The indie outfit derives much of its funding from subscribers, who helped launch the press with two translations, Down the Rabbit Hole and Clemens Meyer's All the Lights (translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire), both scheduled for publication next month.
A suggestion by Guardian website commenter Teregarciadiaz was the first to alert the prize committee to Villalobos's book, which appeared last year in Spanish as Fiesta en la madriguera (Anagrama) and has since been translated into seven languages. "Reading this novel in the bloody climate that rains and thunders every day in Mexico is like walking a tightrope," Teregarciadiaz wrote. "Villalobos reminds us that we are vulnerable on the tightrope, but that the strength, imagination, and humor it's spun from hold us up over the abyss of reality and, in spite of atrocity, prevent us from falling."
The Guardian will announce the remaining debut titles longlisted for the ten-thousand-pound prize (worth roughly sixteen thousand dollars) later this month, and the winner will be revealed in the fall.