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Thursday, September 24, 1998 Published at 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK


The scene is set for the Booker battle

Out of more than 100 entries, only six make the shortlist

The nominations for the 30th Booker Prize, Britain's leading literary award, have been announced.

The six authors on the shortlist for this year's prize for fiction are:

Beryl Bainbridge, Master Georgie
Julian Barnes, England, England
Martin Booth, The Industry of Souls
Patrick McCabe, Breakfast on Pluto
Ian McEwan, Amsterdam
Magnus Mills, The Restraint of Beasts

Lord Douglas Hurd, the chairman of the judges, said: "We have had a strenuous good-humoured session. Five very different judges from five very different backgrounds and we have arrived at a talented shortlist with a lot of excitement in it."

This year the talent ranges from Magnus Mills, a London bus driver, to Beryl Bainbridge, who is on the shortlist for the fifth time, and Ian McEwan for the second.

Lord Hurd and the other judges; journalists Nigella Lawson and Miriam Gross, novelist Penelope Fitzgerald and literature lecturer, Professor Valentine Cunningham, were locked in four hours of debate before they announced the shortlist.

The winner of the 20,000 prize will be made known on 27 October, and if the past is anything to go by, controversy and debate are sure to accompany the announcement.

Past choices of nominees and winners have provoked criticisms including complaints about the way in which the prize is judged.

Going down in history

Last year, the winner, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, became the latest in a long line of Booker controversies.

[ image: Arundhati Roy's novel was controversial in India]
Arundhati Roy's novel was controversial in India
A strong seller and with much media support, the book was criticised for being too populist a choice - and some said it simply did not deserve the award.

Carmen Callil, a Booker Prize judge in 1996, said on television that The God of Small Things was an "execrable" book. One Guardian journalist described the whole contest as "profoundly depressing".

The year before that, the winner, Graham Swift's novel, Last Orders, despite selling 54,000 copies in paperback, hit the headlines for its similarity to a novel by William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying.

The authors themselves are sceptical of the prize. Anita Brookner, who won in 1984, said: "winning the Booker has had nil impact on my career, and your reputation sinks rapidly".

A S Byatt, author of Possession and winner in 1990, said: "I've won it and judged it and it's a lottery."

For others, the disappointment of losing out or personal frustration at the judges has been too much to contain.

Salman Rushdie hurled abuse at the judges for overlooking his novel, Shame, as the winner in 1983, while Vikram Seth's agent wrote to the judges saying, "May God and literature forgive you."

Judging a book

That the winning choice should rest solely in the hands of six judges, albeit with a great deal of experience in the arts, has also raised concerns.

[ image: Mr Kelman's winning book was not a unanimous choice]
Mr Kelman's winning book was not a unanimous choice
Judges themselves have poured scorn on the system. In 1991, Nicholas Moseley abandoned the panel after disagreements with the other judges on the shortlist. He is said to have complained that they were not interested in "novels of ideas".

Dr Julia Neuberger, a rabbi and one of the judges in 1994, went so far as to call that year's winning book, How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman, "crap".

However notorious the Booker Prize has become in the literary world, its effect on sales of the shortlisted books is more than just noticeable.

It has made some authors millionaires and given others high-profile publishing deals. There is now also a parallel Russian Booker Prize.

And some might even say that the prize itself and all its racy goings-on are more exciting than its contenders.

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