A potted guide to the six novels shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize 2006. The £50,000 prize went to Kiran Desai for The Inheritance of Loss.
IN THE COUNTRY OF MEN BY HISHAM MATAR
Number of pages: 245
Opening sentence: "I am recalling now that last summer before I was sent away."
What's it about?: A poetic tale of one boy's coming-of-age in 1970s Libya as his father is threatened by the secret police and his mother by alcoholism. In the Country of Men explores childhood, family and betrayal.
Defining adjectives: Rich, evocative, textured, sparse.
THE INHERITANCE OF LOSS BY KIRAN DESAI
Number of pages: 324
Opening sentence: "All day, the colours had been those of dusk, mist moving like a water creature across the great flanks of mountains possessed of ocean shadows and depths."
What's it about?: A family saga set in the mid-1980s in India and New York, covering globalisation, multiculturalism, inequality and the different forms of love that exist.
The lives of Jemubhai Popatlal, a retired judge living in Kalimpong, his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, who moves in with him, and his cook are intertwined with the story of the cook's son, Biju, who experiences the negative aspects of living as an illegal alien in New York.
When a Nepalese insurgency disturbs the region, Jemubhai becomes vulnerable because of his hunting rifles and all their lives are put in danger.
Defining adjectives: Descriptive, rich, ambitious, thoughtful.
THE SECRET RIVER BY KATE GRENVILLE
Number of pages: 352
Opening sentence: "The Alexander, with its cargo of convicts, had bucked over the face of the ocean for the better part of a year."
What's it about?: William Thornhill is in the lowest classes of 19th-Century London, and slipping further. With the hangman's noose looming, he secures a place on a convicts ship bound for Australia. He sees the opportunity to carve out the kind of gentrified life he so envied in London - but can he overcome the obstacles - and the natives - to realise his dream?
Defining adjectives: Beautifully descriptive, evocative, sad, desperate.
CARRY ME DOWN BY MJ HYLAND
Number of pages: 334
Opening sentence: "It is January, a dark Sunday in winter, and I sit with my mother and father at the kitchen table. My father sits with his back to the table, his feet pressed against the wall, a book in his lap."
What's it about?: John Egan is 11, already 6ft tall, and believes he is a gifted human lie-detector. But will violence, poverty and homelessness shatter his already fragile transition from child to adult?
Defining adjectives: Intense, absorbing, painful, sympathetic,
MOTHER'S MILK BY EDWARD ST AUBYN
Number of pages: 279
Opening sentence: "Why had they pretended to kill him when he was born?"
What's it about?: Over the course of four summers, a young couple endeavour to raise lovingly their two sons as their marriage crumbles, the husband battles alcoholism, and their ancestral home is given away by his senile mother.
Defining adjectives: Caustic, witty, profound.
THE NIGHT WATCH BY SARAH WATERS
Number of pages: 470
Opening sentence: "So this, said Kay to herself, is the sort of person you've become: a person whose clocks and wrist-watches have stopped, and who tells the time, instead, by the particular kind of cripple arriving at their landlord's door."
What's it about?: Sarah Waters' wartime drama follows the lives of four Londoners whose lives become intertwined with dramatic consequences against the backdrop of the Blitz. Helen, Viv, Duncan and Kay all harbour dark secrets - but can they keep them hidden as the world as they know it disintegrates around them?
Defining adjectives: Compelling, thrilling, tragic, gritty, poignant.