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Wednesday, 19 September, 2001, 08:44 GMT 09:44 UK
McEwan heads Booker shortlist
Ian McEwan
McEwan won in 1998 with Amsterdam
Ian McEwan and Peter Carey head the shortlist for the Booker prize, the literary world's most prestigious award.

The British and Australian literary giants are joined by Impac prize winner Andrew Miller, Ghostwritten author David Mitchell, Orange Prize nominee Ali Smith and newcomer Rachel Seiffert.

Lord Kenneth Baker, chair of the 2001 judges, said it had been a particularly good year for fiction and praised the strength and durability of the shortlist.

"We had great difficulty in whittling down the longlist to the Booker Six," he said.

"Any of these could win - there are no favourites."

This year, for the first time, a "long list" of eligible novelists was made public and included Melvyn Bragg, Nick Hornby, Nadine Gordimer, VS Naipaul and Marina Warner, all of whom were later rejected by the panel.

Beryl Bainbridge, the bookies' favourite on the long-list, was the shock omission.

Bainbridge, who has been on the sortlist five times before but has never won, said it would have been nice to have been in with a chance with According to Queeney this year.

"These prizes do matter, but they do put a hell of a lot of pressure onto writers," she told BBC Radio 4's Today..

"[My book] seems to be selling very well, so so what?"

The shortlisted novels are:

  • Peter Carey - True History of the Kelly Gang
  • Ian McEwan - Atonement
  • Andrew Miller - Oxygen
  • David Mitchell - Number9Dream
  • Rachel Seiffert - The Dark Room
  • Ali Smith - Hotel World

    McEwan and Carey, as former Booker winners, are likely to generate most interest.

    The pair are both quoted at 5/2 favourites by bookmakers William Hill, although spokesman Graham Sharpe was by no means sure they would win.

    "As the prize does not often go to a previous winner it could well be a very open contest this year, although Carey and McEwan are the natural frontrunners," he said.

    William Hill put Andrew Miller as the third favourite at 9/2, followed by Rachel Seiffert at 5/1, while David Mitchell and Ali Smith are 6/1 outsiders.

    Atonement - a story set in the last years before the war and up to the withdrawal from France at Dunkirk - has already been hailed as a "masterpiece".

    Atonement has been described as a Masterpiece
    Oscar and Lucinda author Carey's fictionalised story of iconic outback gangster Ned Kelly has also garnered high praise both in his native Australia and abroad.

    But competition from the rest of the shortlist will be fierce.

    Miller won the world's richest literary prize, the Impac, for his novel Ingenious Pain and both this and the follow up Casanova are being filmed.

    Ali Smith's second novel Hotel World has already featured on the Orange Prize shortlist.

    The Dark Room, an exploration of German contemporary identity by Seiffert, born in 1971, was also highly acclaimed. It is her first novel.

    Beryl Bainbridge
    Bainbridge: Shorlisted five times before

    The prize, of 21,000, goes to the best full-length novel of the year written by a British, Commonwealth or Republic of Ireland novelist.

    Winning the prize can mean a major boost for sales.

    Recent winners, such as Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, and Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient have gone on to sell more than one million copies after getting the prize.

    Other winners in the 33-year history of the prize have included Kingsley Amis, Pat Barker, Anita Brookner, Roddy Doyle, Kazuo Ishiguro and Salman Rushdie.

    The Full Story of the Ned Kelly
    Carey was shortlisted in 1985 with Illywacker
    Even the shortlisted losers stand to gain - they receive a cheque for 1,000 and a publicity boost for their book.

    The judging panel includes novelist and critic Philip Hensher, novelist and poet Michele Roberts, academic Professor Rory Watson and the literary editor of The Daily Telegraph, Kate Summerscale.

    BBC Arts Online, in conjunction with Booker, will launch a People's Booker vote from 6 October and the results will be made known on 17 October.

    The winner of the prize will be announced at a dinner at London's Guild Hall on 17 October and will be televised by the BBC.

    Author Beryl Bainbridge
    "These prizes do matter but they do put a hell of a lot of pressure on writers"
    The BBC's Jo Episcopo
    "Eight of the 119 entries were written by former Booker winners"
    The BBC's Rebecca Jones
    reports from the Saville Club in London
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