Booker Prize nominees await the chance for literary fame and fortune

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On 16th October 2012 Hilary Mantel said at the Guildhall, London “You wait 20 years for a Booker prize and then two come along at once.”

This was the beginning of her acceptance speech for the Man Booker Prize for her novel “Bring up the Bodies”, having already won the prize in 2009 for “Wolf Hall.”

In fact Hilary Mantel is the only female author to have won the prize twice, the other authors being J G Farrell, Howard Jacobsen, Peter Carey and J M Coetzee.

The Man Booker Prize is awarded to the best original, full-length novel (in the opinion of the judges) in English, by a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations, Republic of Ireland, or Zimbabwe, published in the current year.

This is one of the literary world’s most prestigious awards – not only is it one of the world’s richest literary prizes (it is currently £50,000), but to win the award guarantees the author international renown and success. From next year, books from authors anywhere in the world will be eligible, as long as they are in English and are published in the UK.

The Booker, as it is known for short, began in 1969 as “The Booker McConnell Prize”. Since 2002, it has become known as the “Man Booker Prize” after sponsorship was taken over by the Man Group, an investment management company.

Over the years the Booker has come in for perhaps more than its fair share of criticism. In 2001, the Scottish writer A L Kennedy claimed that the winner was determined by “who knows who…who’s married to who and whose turn it is”. It has also been criticized for being too high brow. Nevertheless, after more than 40 years the Booker is still going strong and has the same general aim : to increase the reading of quality fiction and to attract ‘the intelligent general audience’.

Every October, excitement in the publishing world mounts as the announcement of the winner of the Booker draws near. This year the judges had to read 151 books to produce a ‘longlist’ of 13 books and on 10th September, the shortlist of six was announced. Here’s a brief summary of what the books are about.

We need new Names” by NoViolet Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) is about a girl from a shanty town in Zimbabwe who makes a new life for herself in the USA.

In “The Luminaries” by Eleanor Catton (New Zealand) a man tries to make his fortune in the New Zealand gold rush and becomes drawn into a series of complex mysteries.

“Harvest” by Jim Crace (UK) is a tale of rural isolation in which a village comes under threat and falls apart in just seven days. This is the bookies’ favourite.

“The Lowland” by Jhumpa Lahiri (born in the UK) is about one of two brothers, inseperable in childhood, who is drawn into a revolutionary movement, with devastating repercussions for the rest of his family.

In “A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki (Canada) a woman discovers a lunchbox containing a diary washed up in the Canadian coast and gradually becomes drawn into a mystery.

“The Testament of Mary” by Colm Tóibín (Eire) is an imagining of Mary, mother of Jesus, as a solitary older woman still trying to understand the events that became the narrative of the New Testament.

Each author receives £2,500 for making it to the shortlist. The judging panel will now be reading all shortlisted books a second time and the results of their discussions will be announced at the award ceremony on Tuesday 15th October.

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