Can Jim Crace win the Booker Prize at the second time of asking?
The Hertfordshire born author Jim Crace has been installed as the bookies favourite for this year's Man Booker Prize for his novel Harvest, which he says will be his last.
The book tells the story of a remote village as British economic progress disrupts pastoral idyll following the Enclosure Act. Essentially, the country joined together all the small plots of land, with owners given their share based on the amount they owned before the act - it unsurprisingly benefitted the wealthy.
The Booker Prize is relatively familiar territory for Crace, who was shortlisted in 1997 for his book Quarantine though was beaten by Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things. This time, the bookmakers have him as the marginal favourite, though the pensive 67-year-old writer will avoid getting overexcited given results in recent years.
In 2012, Will Self was the heavy favourite to win the prize for his avant-garde effort Umbrella though was usurped by Hilary Mantel and her historical novel Bring Up The Bodies.
Julian Barnes was the deserved runaway winner in 2011, though the previous year's result represented one of the biggest shocks in the literary prize's history when Howard Jacobson's comedy The Finkler Question beat Peter Carey's Parrot and Olivier, Tom McCarthy's C and Emma Donoghue's popular Room.
Crace's rivals this year include the New Zealand writer Eleanor Catton, whose hotly-tipped epic about New Zealand's gold rush, The Luminaries, is tipped by many - including this writer - to upset the applecart.
Irish writer Colm Toibin is the second favourite with the bookmakers, though his novel The Testament of Mary clocks in at just 99 pages - 49 less than Barnes' The Sense of an Ending, which was deemed pretty short for a Booker Prize winning effort.
The three remaining novels include Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland - about inseparable brothers Subhash and Udayan who find themselves living very different lives. Udayan finds himself drawn into the rebellious Naxalite movement in Calcutta, while Subhash leaves home to pursue a life of scientific research in America.
NoViolet Bulawayo - who surely wins the award for best name of the year - is nominated for We Need New Names, which follows the journey of a young girl from a Zimbabwean slum to America. Ruth Ozeki's A Tale For The Time Being is about a suicidal Tokyo schoolgirl whose diary is washed up at sea.
"There's a pleasing diversity to the shortlist: they're six very different books, in terms of both settings and writing styles," said Jonathan Ruppin, web editor of Foyles, "But while each of the shortlist offers something memorably unique, I think the judges' debate will ultimately be between Jim Crace and Eleanor Catton.
"Harvest, with its fragile lyricism, is the crowning achievement of Crace's consistently outstanding career, while Catton is pushing the boundaries of what fiction can achieve, bringing the vagaries of astrology and the intricacies of the Golden Ratio into the very fabric of how she put The Luminaries together. I've not read anything, Man Booker nominated or not, that comes close to either this year," he added.
This year's judging panel will be chaired by nature writer Robert MacFarlane and made up of broadcaster Martha Kearney, the critic and biographer Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, the classicist and critic Natalie Haynes and the author and critic Stuart Kelly.
Chair of the Booker judges, Robert Macfarlane, remarked on the shortlist's "global range" which he said "shows the English language novel to be a form of world literature".
At a press conference announcing the shortlist, Macfarlane told journalists, "We looked for books that sought to extend the power and possibility of the form. This is in keeping with the history of the novel. We wanted novel novels.
Though Crace is the market leader, Catton's book appears to be where the smart money is.
A spokesman for booksellers Waterstones said: "With a multicultural shortlist dominated by women I think the bookies may be wrong this time."
The six shortlisted authors will receive £2,500 and be presented with a hard-bound edition of their book. The Booker Prize winner, announced in October on live television, will receive £50,000.
Man Booker Prize 2013 shortlist in full is as followed:
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Harvest by Jim Crace
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin
Julian Barnes With His Booker Prize Winning Novella The Sense of an Ending
HIlary Mantel Won The Booker Prize For The Second With With Bring Up The Bodies