British novelist Julian Barnes was on Tuesday tipped to be the favourite for this year's £50,000 Man Booker Prize hours as a shortlist of six authors for the English-speaking world's arguably most prestigious literary award was announced.

The list includes two first-time novelists Stephen Kelman and A.D. Miller, and in a sign of the growing strength of independent publishing four books are from small or medium size independent houses. Mr Kelman is in contention for “Pigeon English'', and Mr. Miller for “Snowdrops''.

Mr. Barnes, who has been shortlisted four times before but never made to it the big day, is nominated for his widely acclaimed “The Sense of an Ending,” narrated by a man as he looks back on his life punctuated by hope and remorse.

Best known for “Flaubert's Parrot'' and “England, England,'' his hilariously satirical take on modern Britain's decline, his relationship with the Booker Prize has been complex. He once criticised its judges for being “inflated by their brief celebrity”.

But this year he is the critics' as well as bookies' favourite.

“Literary punters believe this is the year the Booker judges will finally reward Julian Barnes,” said a spokesman for a leading betting firm.

Chair of judges, Dame Stella Rimington, former head of MI5, said it was “hard'' to let go of many novels. “We were sorry to lose some great books. But, when push came to shove, we quickly agreed that these six very different titles were the best,” she said.

A surprise omission is Alan Hollinghurst, a former Booker winner, whose much-discussed novel “The Stranger's Child'' was at stage seen as a frontrunner.

There are two Canadian contenders, Patrick deWitt and Esi Edugyan, nominated for “The Sisters Brothers'' and “Half Blood Blues'' respectively. Besides, Ms Edugyan, the other woman writer in the running is Carol Birch for “Jamrach's Menagerie''.

The winner will be announced on October 18.

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