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The Australian author Peter Carey is on course to become the first ever three-times winner of the Man Booker prize following the announcement of the shortlist for this year’s award.
His novel Parrot and Olivier in America, a comic exploration of the life of Alexis de Tocqueville, is among the favourites to win the £50,000 prize.
Mr Carey previously won with Oscar and Lucinda in 1988 and True History of the Kelly Gang in 2001. The other books on the shortlist, announced on Tuesday, are: Room by Emma Donoghue; In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut; The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson; The Long Song by Andrea Levy; and C by Tom McCarthy.
Sir Andrew Motion, chair of the judges, said they had chosen books “which demonstrate a rich variety of styles and themes – while in every case providing deep individual pleasures”.
He described all six novels as “outstandingly good” and possessing the common characteristic of comedy: “not necessarily laugh-out-loud comedy, but the comedy that is best described as laughter-in-the-dark, which is offered in the full knowledge of the dreadful things that can accompany it”.
The Irish author Emma Donoghue, the youngest writer on the shortlist at 40, has been installed as 9/4 favourite to win the prize by the bookmaker Ladbrokes for her novel about a mother and son who shield themselves from the world by confining themselves to a small room.
The South African author Damon Galgut was previously shortlisted for his book The Good Doctor in 2003 while Howard Jacobson celebrates his first appearance on the shortlist, having twice been longlisted for Kalooki Nights (2006) and Who’s Sorry Now? (2002).
Mr Galgut’s In a Strange Room is about a young man’s travels and his search for love, while Mr Jacobson’s The Finkler Question focuses on the bitter-sweet relationship between two old school friends.
Andrea Levy’s The Long Song is set in Jamaica in the last years of slavery, and follows the fortunes of a slave girl on a sugar plantation. Tom McCarthy’s C tells the story of a man who is embroiled in the technological revolutions of the early 20th century.
As part of the literary world’s determination to engage with the latest technology, this year’s prize has a digital dimension: there is a freely downloadable Man Booker Prize App, and deals with T-Mobile and the digital book retailer GoSpoken have enabled users to access extracts from all 13 longlisted titles.
All six shortlisted authors will appear at the Royal Festival Hall on October 10 to read from their books and answer questions from the audience.
The winner will be announced at a dinner at London’s Guildhall on October 12.