British writer and journalist Howard Jacobson’s novel The Finkler Question, a semi-autobiographical comic take on Jewish identity, is the surprise winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize.

It was not the unanimous choice of the jury and, in the end, two of the five judges voted against it.

Manchester-born Mr. Jacobson, who lives in London, beat two of the bookies’ favourites — Tom McCarthy's C and Emma Donoghue's Room — to win the £50,000 prize. Critics were disappointed to see Australian writer Peter Carey miss out on Parrot and Olivier in America. Had Mr. Carey won, he would have become the first ever writer to win a Booker three times.

Other losing contenders were Andrea Levy (The Long Song) and Damon Galgut (In a Strange Room).

Sir Andrew Motion, who chaired the jury, insisted that The Finkler Question was the "best" of the six books on the shortlist. He denied that Mr. Jacobson was chosen to make up for his "bridesmaid" status in previous years. He was longlisted twice before without ever making the final cut.

"The Finkler Question is a marvellous book: very funny, of course, but also very clever, very sad and very subtle. It is all that it seems to be and much more than it seems to be. A completely worthy winner of this great prize," he said, pointing out that despite its comic tone it was a "very sad book, a very melancholy book".

Mr. Jacobson, himself looking slightly surprised, joked that for three years he had been writing hypothetical "acceptance" speeches in the hope of winning the prize.

"I note that my language in these speeches grows less gracious with the years. You start to want to blame the judges….Tonight, I forgive everyone — they were only doing their job those judges, every one of whose names I could reel off," he said.

Described as a novel about "love, loss and male friendship", The Finkler Question explores what it means to be Jewish today. Critics said it had some of the "wittiest, most poignant and sharply intelligent comic prose in the English language".

Mr. Jacobson’s previously longlisted novels are Kalooki Nights and Who's Sorry Now.

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