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Page last updated at 20:49 GMT, Tuesday, 12 October 2010 21:49 UK
The books of the Man Booker

The shortlisted books competing for the Man Booker Prize

The Man Booker, Britain's best know literary prize, has been awarded to Howard Jacobson for The Finkler Question. But what tales do the best in modern literature tell?

Arts correspondent Rebecca Jones spoke to the six shortlisted authors in the build up to the announcement of the £50,000 prize. Listen to her reports below:

HOWARD JACOBSON - THE FINKLER QUESTION
Howard Jacobson

"I was born wanting to be a writer," says the novelist Howard Jacobson, who had pictures of George Eliot and Jane Austen on his bedroom wall at the age of nine.

But his love of the classics of English literature is exactly what kept him from writing, he says, until he finally realised that he could not be Tolstoy or Henry James and found his own voice.

The Finkler Question explores the Jewish experience in Britain today. The book is about three male friends, two of whom are Jewish and one that is not but would like to be.

The book is about "what Jewishness looks like to someone from the outside," explains the self-described Jewish Jane Austen.

"I bring the ways of Jewish thinking into the English novel," he says.

TOM McCARTHY - C
Tom McCarthy

A sweeping story of one man's obsession with the early days of radio, Tom McCarthy's novel, C, ranges from the battlefields of the First World War to the tombs of ancient Egypt, taking in Nabokov, Joyce and Freud along the way.

"It's the period of radio's emergence," he explains. "In 1898 Marconi is doing some of his very earliest wireless experiments. In 1922 the BBC is formed."

It was, he says, a "wonderfully anarchic period of lots of little wireless bugs setting up their own station, just seduced by this sense that the air has come to life."

Though some tipped McCarthy's novel as a possible Booker winner, others dismissed C as frustrating and pretentious. McCarthy says he is not surprised.

"The type of art that I want to make, it's disruptive and, I hope, kind of subversive as well. Not in some kind of narrow political sense, but in a big way... otherwise why do it?"

DAMON GALGUT - IN A STRANGE ROOM
Damon Galgut

When he was a child, Damon Galgut was diagnosed with Burkitt's lymphoma and went through chemotherapy. It was, he says, "the central cataclysmic event" of his life.

The stories his mother read to him by his hospital bed-side, left him with an overwhelming desire to write and he went on to publish his first novel at the age of 17.

His latest book In a Strange Room is a departure from Galgut's traditional South African subject matter.

"I found myself tired of discussing how it felt to be a South African and I wanted to write about how it felt to be a human being," he explains.

The novel describes three journeys made by the same man at different times. But its autobiographical nature has led some to criticise its place on the shortlist.

Galgut, however, is unfazed. "We construct stories out of what we remember and the construction is a form of fiction," he says.

ANDREA LEVY - THE LONG SONG
Andrea Levy

"I wasn't born to do this," says Andrea Levy of her literary career.

Growing up in north London to Jamaican parents, she was told by her career adviser, in no uncertain terms, to seek work in a shop.

In her 30s, she took an evening class in creative writing, and found she enjoyed it far more than she expected.

"I had a job of work to do, to gain the confidence to feel that I could have a go at writing," she admits.

The Long Song tells the story of July, a slave girl on a Jamaican sugar plantation during the years leading up to the abolition of slavery.

Levy felt compelled to write about the lives lived under slavery, from a perspective not found in history books, but found she had a life affirming story to tell.

"It was about survival. These people who are my ancestors... who are surviving under this incredibly barbaric system," she says.

"This is 300 years of millions of people's lives."

PETER CAREY - PARROT AND OLIVIER IN AMERICA
Peter Carey in 1988

Australian writer Peter Carey, who has won twice before, says his third nomination hasn't dimmed his desire to win.

"You spend your time... trying to do something better than you ever did in your life. It's nice if some other people have a chance of thinking that too," he says.

His novel, Parrot and Olivier in America, explores early attempts at democracy in his adopted home, the United States. It is a subject a long way from his personal origins in small-town Australia.

"I'm only interested in writing books that scare me to death because I've never done them before and I don't know how to do it," he says.

EMMA DONOGHUE - ROOM
Emma Donoghue

The shocking case of Josef Fritzl, who imprisoned and raped his own daughter in Austria, is the bleak inspiration for Emma Donoghue's novel Room.

"I've never had a story from the headlines stick in my mind that way before," she explains. "The novel came really fully formed, which is so rare for a novelist."

The novel tells the story of a woman known simply as "ma" who was kidnapped, imprisoned and raped by a stranger. The story is narrated by her five year old son.

"I just thought, oh if a child were to tell such a story, then it wouldn't be either a grubby true crime tale, or sob story," she says.

"That far from focussing on the exotic psychopath and the erotic bond between psychopath and victim, I knew it wouldn't be about that at all, that it would be the story of a mother and child."




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