Irish author O'Neill favourite to win Man Booker Prize

Joseph O'Neill. Pic: PA

Irish authors Joseph O’Neill and Niall Williams are in the running for this year’s Man Booker Prize.

David Mitchell is one of six British authors in the list along with David Nicholls and past winner Howard Jacobson, as its new global embrace gives fewer than half the places on the longlist to Brits.

A rule change has now opened the award to more international writers, enabling Americans to be included for the first time with four US authors among the list of 13 announced.

The remaining place goes to Australian Richard Flanagan.

Flanagan, O'Neill and Williams would have been eligible under the previous rules which allowed authors from the Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland.

Organisers of the UK’s best-known fiction award – worth £50,000 to the winner - announced last year they were opening up the 46-year-old prize to writers of any nationality writing in English.

Bookmaker William Hill makes O'Neill – who lives in New York – the favourite to take the prize at 4/1, while David Mitchell is a 5/1 second favourite.

It puts Flanagan at 6/1, Smith 7/1, Jacobson and Powers at 8/1, Fowler and Williams on 9/1, while Mukherjee and Nicholls are 10/1 and Ferris, Hustvedt and Kingsnorth are at 20/1.

But it is the inclusion of American writers for the first time which will fuel much of the discussion about this year’s list.

The tipped Donna Tartt book The Goldfinch failed to make it, but Joshua Ferris (for his book To Rise Again At A Decent Hour), Karen Joy Fowler (We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves), Siri Hustvedt (The Blazing World) and Richard Powers (Orfeo) have all made the list.

Grayling said of the nominees: “This is a diverse list of ambition, experiment, humour and artistry.

“The novels selected are full of wonderful stories and fascinating characters.

“The judges were impressed by the high quality of writing and the range of issues tackled – from 1066 to the future, from a PoW camp in Thailand, to a dentist’s chair in Manhattan, from the funny to the deeply serious, sometimes in the same book.”

The announcement last year that the Booker was dropping its geographical borders came in the wake of the launch of the Folio Prize – seen by many as a rival award – which attracted an international field.

There were also changes to the number of books which publishers could enter.

Jonathan Taylor, who chairs the Booker Prize Foundation, said: “Our new model, in recognising literary achievement, should encourage the traditional publishing houses while ensuring novels from new green-shoot publishers continue to be included.

“By including writers from around the world to compete alongside Commonwealth and Irish writers, the Man Booker Prize is reinforcing its standing as the most important literary award in the English-speaking world.”

Salman Rushdie – who won the prize in 1981 for Midnight’s Children – said of the expansion of entry: “I think it’s a really great thing that finally we’ve got an English-language prize that doesn’t make a distinction for writers who are writing from a particular country.”

Last year’s prize was won by New Zealander Eleanor Catton, who became the youngest victor at the age of 28 and her book The Luminaries, at 832 pages, was also the longest winner.

:: The shortlisted books are as follows:

Joshua Ferris (US) – To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

Richard Flanagan (Australia) – The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Karen Joy Fowler (US) – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Howard Jacobson (Britain) – J

Paul Kingsnorth (Britain) – The Wake

David Mitchell (Britain) – The Bone Clocks

Neel Mukherjee (Britain) – The Lives of Others

David Nicholls (Britain) – Us

Joseph O’Neill (Ireland) – The Dog

Richard Powers (US) – Orfeo

Ali Smith (Britain) – How to Be Both

Niall Williams (Ireland) – History of the Rain

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