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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 August, 2004, 17:29 GMT 18:29 UK
Will newcomers take the Booker?
Louise Dean's Becoming Strangers
One hotly-tipped first novel is Louise Dean's Becoming Strangers
Established names rub shoulders with debut novelists in the Booker prize longlist - and critical opinion seems divided on who will take the spoils.

Unlike last year's star-studded list, some of the biggest names published in 2004 were missing from the fray.

Booker judge Tibor Fischer predicted in the Telegraph that "the real contenders will come from the big houses", refering to publishers rather than writers.

But fellow judge Rowan Pelling told BBC News Online the list was an exciting showcase for first-time novelists.

She said: "It's a longlist which has got everything that we feel passionate about and some wild cards that individuals feel passionate about.

"The inclusion of a lot of first-time novelists shows how pulsating the new guard of British writers are."

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Purple Hibiscus
John Bemrose - The Island Walkers
Susanna Clarke - Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Louise Dean - Becoming Strangers
Lewis Desoto - A Blade of Grass
Justin Haythe - The Honeymoon

She saw the absence of big-name writers like VS Naipaul, Louis de Bernieres and Jeanette Winterson as a way to "deadhead the roses" and encourage new growth.

But the bookmakers are tipping established authors Alan Hollinghurst and David Mitchell for the prize ahead of the fresh talent.

The Sunday Times recently described Hollinghurst's The Line Of Beauty, which has shades of Henry James, as an "exquisitely written atomisation of 1980s Britain".

Meanwhile the Independent on Sunday summarised Mitchell's "dazzling" Cloud Atlas as a "challenging, yet deeply rewarding read".

'Painfully English'

The paper's reviewer is less kind about Nicholas Shakespeare, condemned as "a painfully English writer" whose novel Snowleg has a "morbid tone".

One heavyweight who may do well is Colm Toibin, whose fictional biography of Henry James, The Master, beat David Lodge's work on James to a longlist place.

The Economist described Toibin's depiction of James's life and sexuality as "radically different and by far the more interesting of the two".

Louis de Bernieres
Louis de Bernieres was one of the big-name authors to miss out

Louise Dean's first novel Becoming Strangers may take pole position among the six debutantes, having been endorsed by both Pelling and Fischer.

The Sunday Times last week praised the work - which puts marriage and solitude under the spotlight -as an "impressive, unsentimental and unshowy novel".

And the Observer's review compared Dean to Alan Bennett - a rare compliment for a first-time writer.

"Louise Dean has his wicked yet empathetic eye, his ear for pathos, his almost supernatural talent for observing and measuring the comedy and tragedy of ordinary, heartfelt lives," it said.

Race still open

Another debut to make the list was young Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus, which narrowly missed out on the Orange Prize.

And the Guardian says first-time novelist Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell will bring magic into readers' lives.

The race still seems open for any of the 22 novels on the longlist to make the final shortlist of six.

But both Fischer and Pelling question why some of the novels culled from the initial 132 entries were ever posted off by their publishers.

Fischer dismisses almost a third as "pointless" and says "some of the entries were so execrable I reckoned they must have been submitted as a joke".


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