The best-selling spy novelist was among 13 authors in consideration for the €68,000 literary award, which for the first time included Chinese authors in Wang Anyi and Su Tong.
The chair of the judging panel, writer, academic and rare-book dealer Rick Gekoski said he received a statement from Le Carre only 45 minutes before the announcement of the shortlist in Sydney.
“It reads: ‘I am enormously flattered to be named as a finalist. However, I do not compete for literary prizes and have therefore asked for my name to be withdrawn’,” he told a press conference.
Gekoski said the judging panel, which includes publisher, writer and critic Carmen Callil and South African-born novelist Justin Cartwright, were fans of Le Carre’s work which includes The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
“John le Carre’s name will, of course, remain on the list. We are disappointed that he wants to withdraw from further consideration because we are great admirers of his work,” Gekoski said in a statement.
Authors or publishers cannot submit works for the Man Booker International Prize, which is distinct from the annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction in that it highlights an author’s body of work rather than a single book. Instead, the shortlist and ultimate winner are determined by the judges.
Le Carre is believed to be the first writer to ask to be withdrawn from consideration since the inaugural prize was awarded to Albanian writer Ismail Kadare in 2005. It was won by Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe in 2007 and Canada’s Alice Munro in 2009.
“Technically I don’t suppose he can withdraw the honour... but I don’t think you could give him the prize if he didn’t want it,” Cartwright told the Sydney press conference.
However, Callil responded: “Well I do.”
The judges said they read widely, particularly from China, before settling on this year’s shortlist, admitting that the giant communist country should have been on the list before.
“Once you investigated what’s going on in China, there they were,” Callil said of Wang Anyi, whose Shanghai novels include The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, and Su Tong, writer of Raise the Red Lantern: Three Novellas.
“These are not new Chinese writers, these are writers who were all born before the Cultural Revolution and they have been writing for a long time,” Callil added. “The problem, of course, is translation. These two could do with more translation.”
The prize is due to be announced on May 18.