October 1, 2008 / 3:15 PM / 9 years ago

Old favorites top Nobel literature prize guess-list

4 Min Read

<p>Italian writer Claudio Magris poses in Trieste in this November 5, 2005 file photo.Damjan Balbi</p>

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Perennial favorites, from American novelist Philip Roth to Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, top the list of hopefuls for this year's Nobel Prize in literature.

British betting agency Ladbrokes gives Italian scholar and journalist Claudio Magris the edge with 3-1 odds, followed by Israel's Amos Oz and American author Joyce Carol Oates.

Bottom of the Ladbrokes list with odds of 150-1 is singer-lyricist Bob Dylan.

But such secrecy shrouds the Nobel committee's deliberations over literature's most illustrious yearly prize that even the date of the award is kept hush-hush until news of a winner is close at hand.

Dates for the other Nobel prizes, for achievement in the sciences, economics and peace, are set well in advance with the first -- for physiology or medicine -- due on October 6.

Bookmakers are not the only ones to play oracle about the Nobels, which dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel established in his will and which were first handed out in 1901. Publishers and writers themselves often weigh in.

American novelist Michael Chabon lists writers he would like to see win, led by Ursula K. Leguin and including Michael Ondaatje, Cormac McCarthy, J.G. Ballard and Roth.

"Every year, one crosses one's fingers for Philip Roth," he told Reuters by email.

Beyond Accolades

Chabon, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for his novel "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay," said major awards offer something beyond accolades.

"A prominent prize shines a very bright light, often into an undeservedly dark corner," he said.

Chabon himself had a somewhat different experience when he brought home his major prize. "The day I found out that I had won a Pulitzer, I picked up my then three-year-old son from nursery school. 'Daddy won a prize today,' I told him. His face lit up. 'Open it! Open it!' he said."

Svante Weyler, a Swedish publisher who has spent decades trying to decipher how the Nobel committee thinks, said some of the recent choices have come out of the blue.

Last year's winner, British novelist Doris Lessing, was one such unheralded choice.

"The speculation beforehand has become wilder each year because the academy has surprised us," he said.

Weyler said it may be a poet's turn for the spotlight, since the award has been for prose for the past 11 years.

That means Australian poet Les Murray and the Arabic poet Ali Ahmad Said Asbar -- known as Adonis -- are possibilities. Both are near the top of the Ladbrokes list.

Weyler said his personal favorite was Chinua Achebe, author of the novel "Things Fall Apart."

"But I suspect that the academy thinks that they already have given the prize to an African of his generation when Wole Soyinka got the prize," said Weyler, who predicted accurately in 1996 that Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska would win.

Soyinka won in 1986.

Weyler sees Roth as an unlikely winner. "He's the grand old man in American prose, but I think the academy doesn't believe he is 'heavy' enough," he told Reuters.

Chabon, who shot to literary fame in 1988 at 25 with his first novel "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh," confessed that he himself had dreamed of one day bagging a Nobel.

"To be honest I used to read the lists of Nobel winners in the World Book Encyclopedia, when I was a kid, and imagine my name up there with the greats," he said in the email to Reuters.

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