Coetzee eyes Booker triple; Mantel favourite

Coetzee eyes Booker triple; Mantel favourite

The prize

John Coetzee. Reuters

Their overwhelming favourite is 57-year-old Briton Hilary Mantel, whose Wolf Hall, about the life and times of Thomas Cromwell, has led the odds ever since the shortlist for one of the world’s top literary awards was revealed last month.

“By the time we close our book, Wolf Hall could easily be the best-backed book in the prize’s history,” said Ladbrokes spokesman Nick Weinberg, adding the novel had attracted over 75 per cent of all bets.

The winner, selected by a five-member jury from English-language works by authors from the Commonwealth and Ireland, receives a cheque for 50,000 pounds ($80,000) but can also expect to see sales rise sharply amid a publicity blitz.

Critics have praised Wolf Hall, a work of historical fiction which opens with Cromwell as victim of his violent father and picks up his story when he is in the service of Cardinal Wolsey.

He rises through the ranks to become one of King Henry VIII’s most trusted aides, helping the monarch in his attempts to break with the papacy in Rome.

Coetzee, who won the prize in 1983 with Life & Times of Michael K and in 1999 with Disgrace, is in contention with Summertime, the story of a young biographer who is working on a book about the late writer John Coetzee.

The work completes a trilogy of fictionalised memoirs for Nobel laureate Coetzee, 69, following Boyhood and Youth.

Another previous Booker winner on the shortlist this year is A S Byatt, whose Possession triumphed in 1990.

The 73-year-old has been nominated for The Children’s Book, the tale of a famous writer who pens a separate, private book for each of her children, complete with family mysteries.

The youngest author on the 2009 shortlist is Adam Foulds, born in 1974, whose novel The Quickening Maze is based on real events that took place at an asylum near London in the 1840s.

A novel about a house in Czechoslovakia owned by a newly married couple, the Landauers, is the basis for Simon Mawer’s entry on the list, The Glass Room. The Jewish-Gentile couple prepare to flee as the threat of World War Two grows. Rounding out the shortlist is The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.