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Last Updated: Friday, 15 August, 2003, 17:52 GMT 18:52 UK
Booker list defies critics' comments
Martin Amis
Amis' book has been attacked even before publication

The number of high-profile names in contention for this year's Booker prize may surprise critics who had predicted a list dominated by unknowns.

Some commentators had suggested that authors with "form" would fail to make the grade this time around in favour of literary new blood.

The Evening Standard newspaper said recently that the "smart money is on a little-known author such as last year's Yann Martel to pick up the Booker Prize".

It added: "Insiders have said that novels from past winners - including Peter Carey and Margaret Atwood have sadly failed to live up, or rather down, to the judges' middlebrow expectations."

Other past winners on the longlist include Martin Amis, Graham Swift, Melvyn Bragg, and JM Coetzee - the 6/1 favourite.

Coetzee has won twice previously, while Atwood and Swift are both recent winners.

The Evening Standard singled out Coetzee as an exception as his novel Elizabeth Costello "has managed to impress the Booker arbiters".

Monica Ali
First-time novelist Monica Ali makes the list

Meanwhile, Amis' nominated novel, Yellow Dog, has come under attack from some sections of the media even before its publication.

The former darling of book editors has, according to one sympathetic broadsheet, become the victim of a campaign of malice and vilification.

The Sunday Times described Martin Amis' novel Yellow Dog as "patchy", while in The Daily Telegraph, Amis' fellow novelist, Tibor Fischer, said the book was "terrible".

But not everyone is surprised at the inclusion of a number of established writers.

Melvyn Bragg
Bragg has made the longlist in the past
Robert McCrum, literary editor of The Observer, described the longlist as "safe, conservative and sensible - with a hint of danger".

"I would agree that it will be hard to reduce the longlist to a shortlist," he said.

"They've got the world and his wife on there - it's an eclectic mix that reflects the range of fiction published. But as a line-up it's like picking a winner in the Grand National."

Professor John Carey, who is chair of the judging panel, said he was in favour of a "longish longlist".

"It attracts readers' attention to the books and I was pleased that there are some first-time authors," he said.

Speaking about the spat over Amis, he said it would have been "crass" to leave Yellow Dog off the list.

The judges - who include writers AC Grayling and DJ Taylor - were certain of its worth.

"We had a big discussion about that particular title, needless to say," Professor Carey added.

"But what book is perfect? It has enormous strengths as well as weaknesses."

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