Aravind Adiga, 33, won the 40th Man Booker prize on Tuesday night for his debut novel, “The White Tiger,” a vivid exploration of India’s class struggle told through the story of a village boy who becomes the chauffeur to a rich man.
Michael Portillo, a former cabinet minister and the chairman of this year’s panel of judges, praised Mr. Adiga’s novel, saying that the short list had contained a series of “extraordinarily readable page-turners.” However, Mr. Adiga’s book had prevailed, he said, “because the judges felt that it shocked and entertained in equal measure.”
Mr. Adiga said his book was an “attempt to catch the voice of the men you meet as you travel through India — the voice of the colossal underclass.”
“This voice was not captured,” he added, “and I wanted to do so without sentimentality or portraying them as mirthless humorless weaklings as they are usually.”
When he accepted the award, Mr. Adiga dedicated it to “the people of New Delhi where I lived and where I wrote this book.” When asked what he would do with the money, Mr. Adiga joked, “The first thing I am going to do is to find a bank that I can actually put it in.”
The Man Booker prize, Britain’s best-known and most generous literary award, is given annually to a novel written by an author from Britain, Ireland or the Commonwealth nations and is accompanied by a check for £50,000 — about $86,000 — as well as an inevitable increase in sales.
This year’s list of finalists was one of the least star-studded in recent years. It included two first-time novelists, and several of the favorites were snubbed by judges. Joseph O’Neill’s critically acclaimed “Netherland” was omitted from the short list, as was “The Enchantress of Florence” by Salman Rushdie.
As a result, bookmakers were divided over the likely winner, oscillating between Mr. Adiga and the Irish writer Sebastian Barry, 53, whose book “The Secret Scripture” is the story of an Irish patient in a mental hospital sharing her shocking family history with her psychiatrist.
The other books on the shortlist were “Sea of Poppies” by Amitav Ghosh, “The Clothes on Their Backs” by Linda Grant, “The Northern Clemency” by Philip Hensher and “A Fraction of the Whole” by Steve Toltz.