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A tight Booker Prize race

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AUTHORIAL ARRAY: Short-listed candidates for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2008 pose with their nominated books in London on Tuesday, hours before the coveted choice was to be announced. From left, they are Aravind Adiga (India), Sebastian Barry (Ireland), Amitav Ghosh (India), Linda Grant (England), Philip Hensher (England) and Steve Toltz (Australia).
AUTHORIAL ARRAY: Short-listed candidates for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2008 pose with their nominated books in London on Tuesday, hours before the coveted choice was to be announced. From left, they are Aravind Adiga (India), Sebastian Barry (Ireland), Amitav Ghosh (India), Linda Grant (England), Philip Hensher (England) and Steve Toltz (Australia).

Two Indians in the short-list of authors; two of the six are debutants

LONDON: Irish writer Sebastian Barry was the bookies’ favourite on Tuesday in a wide-open field of finalists for the prestigious Man Booker prize for fiction.

Barry’s The Secret Scripture, a story of misery, memories and secrets in 1930s Ireland, was 5/2 front-runner among six contenders for the award, according to bookmakers William Hill. Rival bookies Ladbrokes had Barry as 2/1 front-runner.

Second favourite

Both firms had Indian writer Amitav Ghosh as second-favourite for Sea of Poppies. The winner was set to be announced late on Tuesday, beyond midnight Indian time.

The £50,000 prize is among the world’s highest-profile literary awards, open to novels in English by writers from Britain, Ireland or the Commonwealth of former British colonies. Winning brings a big boost in profile, and usually in sales.

Playwright and novelist Barry was previously nominated in 2005 for A Long Long Way. Victory would make him the third Irish winner in four years.

The 2005 prize went to John Banville for the The Sea, and last year’s winner was Ireland’s Anne Enright for The Gathering. The 2006 winner was India’s Kiran Desai for The Inheritance of Loss.

This year’s Booker shortlist lacks the star power and household names of some previous contests.

Few of the six short-listed authors are household names, and two are first-time authors: Indian novelist Aravind Adiga, nominated for The White Tiger — the story of a man’s dreams of escaping poor village life for success in the big city — and Australia’s Steve Toltz, short-listed for sprawling father-son saga A Fraction of the Whole.

Aravind Adiga, at 34 years old, is the youngest novelist and one of two debutants among the six authors.

Two English authors are also in the running — Linda Grant for The Clothes on Their Backs and Philip Hensher for The Northern Clemency.

Among those snubbed by the judging panel was Salman Rushdie, who was on the prize’s 13-book long-list for the Enchantress of Florence. In July, Rushdie was named the greatest-ever winner of the literary prize for Midnight’s Children, which took the Booker in 1981.

Graham Sharpe, Booker expert at bookies William Hill, said the judges’ decision to omit another highly praised book, Joseph O’Neill’s post-9/11 New York saga Netherland, from the shortlist was inexplicable.

“It’s certainly not a vintage year either for the quality of the books or the gambling on the outcome,” Mr. Sharpe said. “You haven’t got the big names, the controversy — anything to spark a flame of interest in the shortlist.”

William Hill put 7/2 odds on Ghosh and Grant, followed by Toltz at 9/2. Adiga and Hensher were both 5/1 outsiders.

Renaming

The award was founded in 1969 and was long known as the Booker Prize. It was renamed when the financial services conglomerate Man Group PLC began sponsoring it five years ago.

A total of 41 books have won the prize since it was launched in 1969, because the award was shared in 1974 and 1992. Contenders must have been published in the past year and originally written in English. The winner was to be announced at a ceremony in London’s Guildhall.

On the Net, the event is at www.themanbookerprize.com — Agencies

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