English author Julian Barnes was one of six authors shortlisted for the coveted Man Booker Prize for Fiction on Tuesday, and is the bookmakers' favorite to win the award when it is announced in October.
Barnes's novel "The Sense of an Ending," about an ordinary man who muses on the absence of drama in his life, was praised as "technically marvelous" by the panel of five judges, chaired by British spymaster-turned-writer Dame Stella Rimington.
It marks Barnes's fourth appearance on the shortlist following "Flaubert's Parrot" (1984), "England, England" (1998) and "Arthur and George" (2005). He has not won so far.
"Julian Barnes's book is the most obvious novel on the shortlist and perhaps the most expected as it was well reviewed," Gaby Wood, judge and head of books at Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper told reporters at the unveiling of the list.
"It's a small, quiet book and is not only surprising but actively shocking. In purely technical terms it is the most marvelous distillation of the ideas (Barnes) has been rehearsing over the course of his life. It makes something familiar both strange and shiveringly awkward."
Barnes's relationship with the Man Booker Prize, one of the world's most important awards for English language fiction, has not always been easy.
He once referred to it as "posh bingo" and berated judges for being "inflated by their brief celebrity."
Also on the shortlist this year are two first-time novelists -- Stephen Kelman ("Pigeon English") and A.D. Miller ("Snowdrops") -- and two Canadians -- Patrick deWitt ("The Sisters Brothers") and Esi Edugyan ("Half Blood Blues"). Rounding out nominees is Carol Birch with "Jamrach's Menagerie."
The six books were whittled down from a longlist of 13 books. The award, worth 50,000 pounds ($80,530) to the winner as well as the likelihood of a huge boost in sales of the winning book, will be handed out on Oct. 18.
Bookmakers Ladbrokes have named Barnes as favorite at 13/8 odds, while Birch and Miller are the joint 7/2 second favorites to win the prize.
Two novels were singled out for their linguistic dexterity; for the aural quality of jazz music in the writing of "Half Blood Blues," and for Kelman's innovative narration using hybrid dialect in "Pigeon English."
Susan Hill, judge and award winning author, said "Half Blood Blues," the tale of the mysterious disappearance of a rising, black jazz star, Hieronymous Falk in 1940, was not initially a novel she would have picked from a bookshelf.
However, she described it as the one of the most "original, assured and moving" novels she had read.
"It's quite unlike any other novel - it's a vibrant and tense work about war and its aftermath, and what it means to betray," she said.
"[Edugyan] doesn't put a foot wrong. She writes about music so we can hear it - not just read the words but we hear it and tap out its rhythm."
"Pigeon English," compared by the judges to Burgess's cult classic "A Clockwork Orange" due to its mix of southeast London English and Ghanaian patois, was described by the panel as "magnificent" and a "linguistic triumph."
Hype surrounding the publication of the novel has compared the story to the case of Damilola Taylor, a high profile British case of the murder of a 10 year-old boy on an impoverished estate in London in 2000.
But focusing on these similarities undersells the novel dramatically, the judges said.
"What the novel depicts is a young boy's wonder and disillusionment with a society that is both welcoming and hostile, but the hostility does not come from the forces you would expect," said judge Matthew d'Ancona, a writer and political columnist.
D'Ancona, who described Kelman as a novelist in the prime of his writing said the novel had the "capacity to endure."
"It's a series of revelations about the world in which we live. It fizzes with doubts and anxieties about the way we live now and in some ways was a grim prophecy the London riots," he said.
Last year's winner was Howard Jacobsen's "The Finkler Question," which was described as the first comic novel to win the award and has sold over 250,000 copies in the UK alone.