Colm Tóibín and Jim Crace on Man Booker prize shortlist

The six-strong shortlist for the UK’s best-known literary award, the Man Booker prize for fiction, was announced on Tuesday. In a group notable for its geographic diversity, four women and two men will compete for the £50,000 prize, awarded on October 15 in London.

Eleanor Catton, a New Zealander, is the youngest author on the list. Shortlisted for her 800 page, Victorian-style second novel, The Luminaries, Ms Catton will be 28 when the winner is announced.

The only debut fiction to make the final six comes from US-resident Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo, 31, for We Need New Names, the tale of a girl’s life in an African shanty town and subsequent exile in America.

The others on the list are The Lowland, by US-based writer Jhumpa Lahiri, which follows two Calcutta-born brothers, and the Canadian writer Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, a novel that links the lives of a lonely Canadian woman and a Japanese teenager.

The early favourites to win, however, are the two men on the list: veteran English writer Jim Crace for his 11th book, Harvest, a bleak story of dispossessed peasants in an unnamed feudal village; and Colm Tóibín for The Testament of Mary, a retelling of Jesus’s life from his mother’s point of view – at 101 pages by some distance the shortest book chosen. Colm Tóibín has been shortlisted twice before (in 1999 and 2004) and Jim Crace once, in 1997.

The five-strong judging panel read 152 novels submitted by publishers, and whittled the contenders down to six from a longlist of 13 books announced in July.

Chairman of the judges, the writer and academic Robert Macfarlane, said this year’s panel was “drawn to those novels that extend the power and possibility of the form”. Each of the six shortlisted titles, he said, was chosen for displaying “style, verve, experimentation”.

The linking theme in this group of books, Mr Macfarlane said, “is connection – ways of connecting, and inevitably also about connection’s dark reverse. These novels are all about the strange ways people are drawn together, and the . . . ways they are torn apart.”

Winning the Man Booker award guarantees a sales boost: the 2012 prize went to Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies, the second in a projected trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell and the court of King Henry VIII. The first book in the series, Wolf Hall, won the 2009 Man Booker prize, and the two titles have sold a combined 1.5m copies.

There’s no obvious similar blockbuster title on the 2013 shortlist, nor are there any books from very small publishing houses. In 2012, three of the final six came from very small imprints, which saw sales rocket after Man Booker recognition.

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