Author Coetzee eyes Booker triple, Mantel favorite

Sun Oct 4, 2009 7:41am EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - South African-born J.M. Coetzee could become the first writer to claim the coveted Man Booker Prize three times when the winner is announced on Tuesday, but bookmakers are predicting a different outcome.

Their overwhelming favorite 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 percent 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.

A sequel is reportedly in the works, taking the reader to the grisly end of Cromwell's life. He was executed in 1540.

"Wolf Hall is that very rare thing: a truly great English novel, one that explores the intersection of individual psychology and wider politics," the Booker judges said on the prize's website.   Continued...

<p>This year's Nobel Prize winner in Literature, South African writer John Maxwell Coetzee arrives for a presentation in a Stockholm book store on December 8, 2003. REUTERS/Michael Dalder</p>