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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).

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Pinter on Pinter

“I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say. Nor can I ever sum up my plays, except to say that this is what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did.

“Most of the plays are engendered by a line, a word or an image. The given word is often shortly followed by the image. I shall give two examples of two lines which came right out of the blue into my head, followed by an image, followed by me.

“The plays are The Homecoming and Old Times. The first line of The Homecoming is ‘What have you done with the scissors?’ The first line of Old Times is ‘Dark.’

“In each case I had no further information…”

Those are the words with which playwright Harold Pinter (above) begins his speech accepting the Nobel prize for literature this year.

Forbidden by doctors from going to Stockholm to receive the 10 million crown ($1.2 million) literature prize, 75-year-old Pinter, who has been battling cancer for years, sent a video recording showing him in a wheelchair with his legs under a red blanket, reports Reuters.

His frailty and hoarse voice added to the drama of a speech peppered with the potent silences of his plays like The Birthday Party and The Caretaker, which gave rise to the term “Pinteresque”, it adds.

It turns into a savage attack on the US, and I don’t like that at all, but the early parts are interesting where he talks about his writings. Anyone interested can read the complete text on the Guardian web site.

My favourite speech by a Nobel literature prize winner was delivered by VS Naipaul in Stockholm on Dec 7, 2001. In his speech, titled Two Worlds, he spoke about growing up in Trinidad, his Indian ancestry, and his moving to Britain and his writer’s life. It will be appreciated by anyone interested in writers or the colonial influence.