Page last updated at 09:50 GMT, Tuesday, 14 October 2008 10:50 UK

At-a-glance: Booker shortlist 2008

The winner of the prestigious Booker Prize will be announced on Tuesday night. The judges say it is a great year for "readability", with a shortlist of "excellent books of substance".

Each shortlisted author has been interviewed on Radio 4's Today programme.

SEBASTIAN BARRY - THE SECRET SCRIPTURE

Sebastian Barry. Credit The Irish Times

Dublin-born Barry has written a number of plays and novels, winning many prizes along the way.

His novel A Long Long Way was shortlisted for the Booker in 2005.

He has also written short stories, poetry, plays and a novel for children, Fanny Hawke Goes To The Mainland Forever.

The Secret Scripture, told through the journals of Roseanne McNulty and her psychiatrist, is the story of a life blighted by mistreatment - and yet still marked by love and hope - in 1930s Sligo.

Through the haze of memory, Roseanne's story acts as an alternative, secret history of Ireland.

ARAVIND ADIGA - THE WHITE TIGER

Aravind Adiga. Credit Mark Pringle

Adiga, the youngest nominee on the Booker shortlist, was born in Madras and was raised in India and Australia before studying at Columbia University in New York and Oxford University.

The 33-year-old is a former correspondent for Time magazine and has written for the Independent, and the Sunday Times.

The White Tiger, a tale of two Indias, tells the story of Balram, the son of a rickshaw puller in the heartlands, one of the "faceless" poor left behind by the country's recent economic boom.

It charts his journey from working in a teashop to entrepreneurial success.

Adiga's first novel, its critique of modern India and its class divisions has raised some heckles in his homeland.

"The tone of it was meant to be provocative and even a bit nasty at times," he admits. "It's meant to get people thinking.

"Large numbers of people are not benefitting from the boom," he adds. "Social tensions are increasing. Violence is increasing across the country."

AMITAV GHOSH - SEA OF POPPIES
Amitav Ghosh. Credit Jeery Bauer
Ghosh is one of India's most popular writers whose books include The Circle of Reason, The Shadow Lines and The Hungry Tide. He is married to writer Deborah Baker.

Sea of Poppies, the first volume of his Ibis Trilogy and set in the mid-19th Century, throws together a diverse cast of Indians - from a widowed villager to an evangelical English opium trader - at a time of colonial upheaval.

Set in the mid-19th Century just before the first Opium War between Britain and China, Ghosh spent years researching the novel, even learning to sail to give his descriptions authenticity.

He said: "Stories of travel are something which have always really fascinated me. Its partly because I myself have travelled a lot but also because I've lived on and off away from India."

On the novel's subject matter, the author said: "It's one of the ugliest most unsavoury episodes in all of history. We don't even know to this day what the cost of this opium trafficking was in terms of Chinese lives."

STEVE TOLTZ - A FRACTION OF THE WHOLE
Steve Toltz

Australian author Toltz, who has made the shortlist with his first novel, has travelled and lived around the world, spending time in Canada, Spain and France. His varied career has seen him work as a private investigator, English teacher and screenwriter.

Epic novel A Fraction of the Whole meanders through the life of the dysfunctional Jasper Dean and details his relationship with his odd-ball, and widely hated, father.

The book, which has drawn comparisons with cult classic The Confederacy of Dunces, covers a multitude of whimsical adventures from strip clubs to asylums.

Toltz said: "As a nation we are split on many things and the only thing we are ever unanimous about, ever, is when we hate someone. When someone is crucified in the press it almost becomes like a national project.

"Even though it is understandable on one level, hatred is hatred, and it has always made me feel slightly sick. When I started the story I knew I wanted to write about a figure like that from the point of view of his son."

PHILIP HENSHER - THE NORTHERN CLEMENCY
Philip Hensher

Hensher divides his time between writing his novels and critiquing those of others in his role as chief book reviewer for The Spectator.

His novel The Mulberry Empire made the longlist for the Booker in 2002, while Kitchen Venom won the Somerset Maughn Award.

Hensher's other novels are Other Lulus, and The Fit, as well as a collection of short stories, The Bedroom of the Mister's House.

The Northern Clemency, set in Sheffield, tells the story of two families - Malcolm and Katherine Glover and their three children; and their friends the Sellers family, newly arrived from London - living through the Thatcher era.

The neighbouring friends are among a large cast of characters whose lives are played out over decades.

The result is a "a deeply moving portrait of Britain's social landscape," according to the Booker judges.

Hensher said: "What you're always looking for, as a novelist, is a subject that hasn't been trodden all over by other people... you are always looking for that untouched subject.

He said: "I felt like I wanted to try and make something interesting about ordinary lives."

LINDA GRANT - THE CLOTHES ON THEIR BACKS

Linda Grant
Liverpool-born Grant, the child of Russian and Polish Jewish immigrants, studied English in York and Canada and later became an award-winning journalist with a weekly Guardian column.

Her first novel, The Cast Iron Shore, published in 1996, was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize.

Her second novel, When I Lived in Modern Times, won the Orange Prize for Fiction, and she was longlisted for the Booker for 2002's Still Here.

The Clothes On Their Backs follows the story of Vivien, a sensitive, bookish girl whose slum landlord uncle, Sandor, is inexplicably unwelcome in her parents' home.

Years later, after her husband has died and Sandor has served time in prison, their paths cross - giving Vivien the chance to learn the truth about her family history.

Grant was one of just three women named on the 13-strong Booker longlist, and the only one to make the shortlist. She admitted the possibility of sexism in publishing is something that concerned her.

She said: "We know that women are, presumably, writing fiction in equal numbers as men, so you have to ask: Was this a weak year for women, or was it the case that the publishers were simply not submitting women writers?"




SEE ALSO
Barry tipped for Booker triumph
14 Oct 08 |  Entertainment
First-timers seeking Booker glory
09 Sep 08 |  Entertainment
Rushdie wins Best of Booker prize
10 Jul 08 |  Entertainment
How do you win a Booker prize?
10 Jul 08 |  Entertainment
Portillo chairs Booker Prize jury
18 Dec 07 |  Entertainment

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