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September 22, 2017

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Rival award clouds Britain's Booker Prize

LONDON--The winner of Britain's Man Booker prize for literature is announced on Tuesday, but the ceremony has been overshadowed by the launch of a rival award that claims the Booker has become too populist.

Julian Barnes remains the favorite for his novel "The Sense of an Ending," while debut novelists Stephen Kelman and A.D. Miller are also among the six finalists, made up of four Britons and two Canadians.

One of the highest-profile awards in English-language literature, the 50,000-pound (US$80,000 or 57,000-euro) annual Booker is awarded for the best work of fiction by an author from the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland.

But this year's shortlist has disappointed the London's literati, while there has also been criticism of the fact that the prize judges include a former head of Britain's domestic intelligence agency MI5.

Last week an anonymous group calling itself "The Advisory Board of the Literature Prize" said it planned to knock the Man Booker off its perch as the benchmark of literary taste.

The "Literature Prize" would also include novels by American writers in the hunt for the "best novel written in the English language and published in the UK in a given year."

In a statement issued last Wednesday, the board for the new prize said it would honor novels that were "unsurpassed in their quality and ambition," saying that "for many years this brief was fulfilled by the Booker."

"But as numerous statements by that prize's administrator and this year's judges illustrate, it now prioritizes a notion of 'readability' over artistic achievement," the board said.

Supporters of the new award include former Booker winners John Banville and Pat Barker and leading British authors Mark Haddon, Jackie Kay and David Mitchell.

"This is not about attacking the Booker or any books on the shortlist," London literary agent Andrew Kidd, spokesman for the Literature Prize, said during an interview with the BBC.

"The Booker has made certain choices about how it wants to position itself and that's great — but we think there's a place for both of us and there can be a happy co-existence."

The Times newspaper archly pointed out that Kidd's agency, Aitken Alexander Associates, had no books on this year's Booker longlist.

The board said that details about funding and the committee behind the prize would be announced in the coming weeks.

But in a sign that there could be harsh words over the canapes and wine as London's literary figures gather for the ceremony at London's Guildhall on Tuesday, the administrators of the Man Booker said they were not impressed.

Ion Trewin, the Booker's administrator, told The Bookseller newspaper that the idea that the prize preferred readability over artistic achievement was "tosh."

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