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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 September, 2003, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Booker shortlist springs surprises
Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood won the Booker in 2000
Booker veteran Margaret Atwood and acclaimed newcomer Monica Ali are among the six writers shortlisted for this year's 50,000 Booker Prize.

But there is no room for the hotly-tipped JM Coetzee and Mark Haddon or other major longlisted authors Martin Amis, Melvyn Bragg or Graham Swift.

Also on the list, which has four female nominees for the first time, are Zoe Heller, Damon Galgut and debut writers Clare Morrall and DBC Pierre.

Professor John Carey, chairman of the judges, said: "This is giant killers' year in the Man Booker. Three first novels and only one big name left."

This year's shortlist includes more debut novels and female authors than any other in the prize's history.

2/1 - Monica Ali, Brick Lane
3/1 - Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake
4/1 - DBC Pierre, Vernon God Little
5/1 - Damon Galgut, The Good Doctor
6/1 - Zoe Heller, Notes on a Scandal
10/1 - Clare Morrall, Astonishing Splashes Of Colour
Source: Ladbrokes
Prof Carey said the judges did not settle on the final list until the last minute.

"There were several clashes of opinion that weren't resolved," he said. "We had to resolve it by voting.

"But what we have ended up with, I think, is a very strong list."

Atwood won the prize in 2000 and has been nominated three further times.

The Canadian writer is shortlisted this year for her futuristic tale Oryx and Crake, her 11th novel.

She was made the favourite by bookmakers William Hill - but rivals Ladbrokes have put Ali ahead.

Ali, 35, who was born in Bangladesh and grew up in England, is in the running for her debut, Brick Lane, about life in East London.

Monica Ali
Monica Ali has received wide praise for her first novel
Former newspaper columnist Zoe Heller is another well-known name on the list.

She is nominated for her second novel Notes on a Scandal, about a teacher who has an affair with a 15-year-old boy.

Pierre, based in Ireland after living in Australia and Mexico, has written a quirky story about a teenager whose life is changed by the Columbine-style massacre.

Galgut, a South African novelist and dramatist is nominated for "a metaphysical thriller" set in a rural hospital.

And the entry by Morrall, from Birmingham, has been described as "a heartbreaking and accomplished debut" by one critic.

Peter Kemp, fiction editor of the Sunday Times, told BBC News Online there were "some big surprises" but he was expecting to see some lesser-known names on the list.

There are some important new names here that represent the future
Robert McCrum
Literary editor, The Observer
"I think it's been a very strange year for fiction - I don't think it's been a good year for fiction," he said. "It's been a year when a lot of big-name writers performed well below their best.

"Of the newcomers, for my money, Damon Galgut is the one to watch - I think he's extremely good. It's a rather Graham Greene-ish kind of story."

The Observer's literary editor, Robert McCrum, said many big names "weren't writing at their best" so the judges "stuck their necks out" to introduce the public to a new generation.

"It's literary fashion moving on. Clearly, there are some important new names here that represent the future in a way that Atwood represents the past," he said.

Yann Martel
Yann Martel won the prize in 2002 for Life of Pi
And literary editor of the Waterstone's book chain, Martin Higgs, said all the books would benefit from "a small uplift in sales" thanks to the shortlist.

"But it won't be dramatic - it won't be something that's going to get these books into the top 10.

"It probably isn't the most high-selling shortlist we've ever seen. Whichever book wins will take off and be a Christmas best-seller, inevitably."

Before the shortlist announcement, Coetzee - who won in 1983 - and debut novelist Haddon were regarded as joint 6/1 favourites by Ladbrokes.

The Booker Prize is open to authors from the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland.

The winner will be announced on 14 October at a ceremony in London, which will be broadcast on BBC Four.


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