Page last updated at 11:35 GMT, Friday, 2 October 2009 12:35 UK

Man Booker Prize special

The 2009 shortlist has been hailed as the most exciting in years with prestigious names and young talent vying for the title.

Gavin Esler will be joined by John Carey and Michael Portillo, both of whom have chaired Booker judging panels, and by former Samuel Johnson Prize chair Rosie Boycott, to weigh up the contenders. They will also be looking at why the previously maligned genre of historical fiction is so dominant this year.

AS BYATT - The Children's Book

AS Byatt won the Booker Prize in 1990 with Possession, and would become the only woman to win twice if The Children's Book triumphs this year.

Her new novel follows several families from the end of the 19th century into the horrors of WW1. At the centre of the tale is Olive, a successful children's author, whose relationship with her own children is complicated and strained by her creative impulses.

The 700 page book is crammed with historical detail about subjects ranging from the rise of liberal political movements, to pottery making, to 19th Century banking crises.

Will our reviewers find it as overstuffed and claustrophobic as a Victorian parlour or an intellectually rigorous take on the period?

The Children's Book is published by Random House, Chatto and Windus.

J M COETZEE - Summertime

JM Coetzee - Summertime

JM Coetzee has an even finer Booker pedigree than AS Byatt.

He is one of only two novelists to have won the prize twice, first in 1983 for The Life and Times of Michael K, and then in 1999 for Disgrace.

Summertime finishes his trilogy of semi fictionalised autobiography which began with Boyhood (1997) and continued with Youth (2002).

In the new work, a biographer researches the supposedly dead writer JM Coetzee by interviewing friends and ex-lovers and reading the novelists' journals.

A portrait emerges of a sexually and socially inept man who writes cold and ultimately irrelevant works of fiction.

Does the work challenge or confirm stereotypes about the Nobel prize winning author? And does it merit his third Booker title?

Summertime is published by Random House, Harvill Secker.

ADAM FOULDS - The Quickening Maze

Adam Foulds - The Quickenening Maze

Young writer Adam Foulds drew plaudits last year for his long narrative poem about the Mau Mau Uprising, The Broken Word.

His novel, The Quickening Maze, is also based on real events. It is an imaginative recreation of the troubled life of the nature poet John Clare, while he was incarcerated in the High Beach Asylum, in Epping Forest, in 1840.

At the same time, the young Alfred Tennyson, before his Laureateship and great acclaim, lived in a house nearby, on the edge of the Forest. His brother, Septimus, was also being treated at the asylum by the charismatic owner Dr Matthew Allen.

High Beach and the lives of its various patients, staff and associates are brought to life in Fould's novel, which follows Clare's erratic behaviour and serious delusions, together with his desire to escape the asylum's walls and walk again with nature.

The Quickening Maze is published by Random House, Jonathan Cape.


Hilary Mantel - Wolf Hall

Hilary Mantel has picked up many awards during her career but has never been considered for the Booker. After this year's shortlist was announced, a wave of bets moved her novel to odds-on favourite with bookmaker William Hill saying they had "never seen a betting pattern like it".

Wolf Hall looks at the court of Henry VIII through the figure of Thomas Cromwell. Often portrayed as Henry's bully boy enforcer, Mantel takes a more sympathetic look at the character as he negotiates a way through the turbulent political times for himself and his family.

The novel weighs in at a hefty 650 pages and Mantel is currently working on part two of the story. Will the panel feel it earns its length and position as favourite?

Wolf Hall is published by HarperCollins, Fourth Estate.

SIMON MAWER - The Glass Room

Simon Mawer - The Glass Room

Simon Mawer is perhaps the least familiar name on this year's shortlist although The Glass Room is his eighth novel.

The booktakes a house as its main character. The starkly modernist Landauer house in Czechoslovakia, based on the Tugendhat villa in Brno, becomes a dispassionate observer of the turbulent history of the country.

After its original owners flee the anti-Semitism of WWII the building passes through Czech, Nazi and Soviet hands, its steel and glass facade reflecting each occupant for us.

Does the striking conceit work?

The Glass Room is published by Little, Brown.

SARAH WATERS - The Little Stranger

Sarah Waters - The Little Stranger

Sarah Waters also places a house at the heart of her story. The Little Stranger focuses on Hundreds Hall, a Georgian building falling into disrepair in the hands of its landed poor owners.

Waters' last novel, The Night Watch, was set amid the chaos of WWII. In this work she moves on to 1948 and the exhaustion and class conflict of the post war years.

This is the third time Waters has appeared on a Booker shortlist and, as the biggest selling author in this year's line-up, she will have plenty of readers willing her to win.

The Little Stranger is published by Little, Brown, Virago.

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