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No big names in Booker shortlist

September 22, 2004 18:03 IST

No big names figure in this year's Booker shortlist, which was announced on Tuesday night.

Judges for the £ 50,000 prize damned some entries as "rubbish" and "drivel". Led by Chris Smith, former British culture secretary, the judges claimed that "quite a number" of novels entered were surprisingly "bad."

But the judges themselves were under attack after dropping many big-name authors - controversial writer V S Naipaul, David Lodge, Justin Cartwright and A L Kennedy - when they drew up the long list.

The final list pits Alan Hollinghust, Colm Toibin and David Mitchell, three novelists likely to feature high in the literary establishment over the next two decades, against three new entrants -- Achmet Dangor, Sarah Hall and Gerard Woodward.

Chances of one of the triumvirate -- Hollinghust, Toibin, Mitchell -- scooping the prize is bright. All the three have been short-listed for the Booker before and they were installed as the favourites by bookmakers William Hill and Ladbrokes.

Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, an unconventional sweeping novel telling the stories of six individuals -- from a 19th century adventurer to a journalist in Ronald Reagan's California -- was picked as the front-runner by both bookmakers. Born in Southport, Lanes, in 1969, Mitchell worked for several years as an assistant at the well-known bookstore Waterstone's branch in Canterbury, Kent, and was named on the Granta Best of Young British Novelists' list last year.

Woodward's I'll Go to Bed at Noon, is only his second novel. Now teaching creative writing at Bath Spa University, the 43-year-old was until recently working part-time packing chocolate vending machines at Manchester University to support his writing. The novel is about a dysfunctional family damned by alcoholism. Like his first book, August, it is drawn on his own family. For several years, Woodward's mother was addicted to glue-sniffing.

Hall's The Electric Michelangelo is his second novel. It is about a young man helping his mother to run a guest house in Morecombe, who learns to become a tattoo artist. He sets off to Coney Island, New York, for adventure. Hall, 30, from Cumbria, learnt tattooing for research.

The third unknown, Dangor, born in 1948 is a South African Muslim who was steeped in the anti-apartheid struggle and knew Steve Biko. After the ANC came to power, he ran the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund and now works for the United Nations on Aids programmes.

His novel, Bitter Fruit, which opens with a rape followed by a murder and is set in post-apartheid South Africa, is based on Dangor's own life in a mixed race township and on his grandfather, who fled Gujarat after murdering his sister's rapist.


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