First Booker for a Brit in five years?

A British writer is likely to win the Man Booker Prize for the first time in five years when the winner is announced tomorrow. Unless the South African born Nobel Prize winner JM Coetzee wins the Booker for the third time — and sets a new record in the Booker’s 41-year history.

All the five other writers on this year’s shortlist are from the British Isles.

That is highly unusual for the Booker.

The prize for the best in English fiction from the Commonwealth and Ireland has been won by a Briton only twice in the past 12 years. Alan Hollinghurst was the last British winner in 2004 for The Line Of Beauty. Ian McEwan was the previous British winner, for Amsterdam in 1998.

There have been more Indian than British winners in the past 12 years. Arundhati Roy won for The God Of Small Things in 1997, Kiran Desai for The Inheritance Of Loss in 2006 and Aravind Adiga for The White Tiger last year.

This video shows the shortlist being announced earlier this month. (Another video at the end of this post.)

Coetzee, the 2003 Nobel Prize winner, won the Booker for Life & Times of Michael K in 1983 and Disgrace in 1999 — and has been shortlisted this year for Summertime.

The English novelist AS Byatt is another past winner back in the fray. The 1990 winner for Possession is on the shortlist this year for The Children’s Book.

But the punters’ favourite is Hilary Mantel, author of the historical saga, Wolf Hall, set in the court of Henry VIII and centring on the character of Thomas Cromwell.

Here are the odds on the six shortlisted authors and their books cited by a betting website:

Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall – (2 – 1 Favourite)

Sarah Waters – The Little Stranger – (4 – 1)

JM Coetzee – Summertime – (6 – 1)

AS Byatt – The Children’s Book – (10 – 1)

Simon Mawer – The Glass Room – (14 – 1)

Adam Foulds – The Quickening Maze – (16 – 1)

Other past Booker winners include Anne Enright (The Gathering, 2007), John Banville (The Sea, 2005), DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, 2003), Yann Martel (Life Of Pi, 2002), Peter Carey (True History Of The Kelly Gang, 2001) and Margaret Atwood (The Blind Assassin, 2000).


Len Deighton and John Le Carre

Len Deighton turned 80 last week, I just discovered from the Guardian. He was born on February 18, 1929, according to Wikipedia.(Telegraph photo.)

Honestly I didn’t even know he was still around, for I haven’t seen any new book by him for a long time. His last thriller was Charity, published in 1996.

That’s sad because he is one of the two greatest British spy fiction writers. Second only to John Le Carre. Ian Fleming doesn’t even come close. I wouldn’t describe Graham Greene, whom I love, as a spy fiction writer.

Deighton is, in fact, more versatile than Le Carre. He has written books like Fighter: The True Story of the Battle of Britain, World War II air-war stories like Bomber and Goodbye Mickey Mouse, and Only When I Larf, a comic thriller about conmen.

He is more snappy and less literary than Le Carre and doesn’t meander like Le Carre does sometimes, though his plots can be equally complex. What a fiendish maze he wove around his spy, Bernard Samson. Starting with The Berlin Game in the early 1980s, he wrote three Samson trilogies, ending with Charity. Midway through the series, Samson’s wife, Fiona, goes over to the Soviets but then he discovers she is working as a British double agent.

Both Deighton and Le Carre started publishing in the early 60s.

But Samson is closer in spirit to Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus than to Le Carre’s spy, George Smiley, in some ways. He is first and foremost a rebellious field agent and not a mandarin who is also good in the field like Smiley.

Deighton’s prank

Deighton also has a sense of fun. The Guardian says:

Deighton managed to achieve a false entry in Who’s Who. It read, “Eldest son of a Governor-General of the Windward Islands. After an uneventful education at Eton and Worcester College, Oxford, where he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics and was President of the Union, he signed on as a deckhand on a Japanese whaler.

In reality, he was a Londoner who finished school and worked as a railway clerk, airline steward, photographer, waiter, illustrator and art director before making his name as a writer.

Early success

Both Deighton and Le Carre had their first books published in 1961. Deighton’s The Ipcress File proved a bigger success than Le Carre’s Call for the Dead featuring George Smiley. The Ipcress File was made into a film starring Michael Caine.

Le Carre hit the big time with his third book, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, which was immediately hailed as a classic when it appeared in 1963. And he is still writing. While Deighton has not published a thriller for more than 10 years, Le Carre, three years his junior, came out with A Most Wanted Man last year.