Who will win tonight's Man Booker Prize 2013?
Though Jim Crace is the favourite for tonight's Man Booker Prize for his final novel, Harvest, literary fans shouldn't assume that the judging panel - headed by Robert Macfarlane - will resort to tributes for the outgoing author. At 28, New Zealand's Eleanor Catton would become the prize's youngest winner and her novel The Luminaries is considered the most ambitious and entertaining of the year.
Eleanor Catton With Her Booker Prize Nominated 'The Lumanaries'
At over 800 pages, Catton's tome follows the story of the New Zealand gold rush. Its protagonist Walter Moody arrives in the country in 1866 to find a group of 12 men discussing a wealthy man who has vanished, a whore who has tried to end her life and a huge fortune discovered in the home of a down-on-his-luck drunk. Moody is drawn into the gripping mystery set in the gold-rush boom and bust of the mid-19th century.
In her review of the novel, The Guardian's Kirsty Gunn said, "...every sentence of this intriguing tale set on the wild west coast of southern New Zealand during the time of its goldrush is expertly written, every cliffhanger chapter-ending making us beg for the next to begin. The Luminaries has been perfectly constructed as the consummate literary page-turner."
The Independent's Simmy Richman wrote, "Yes it's big. Yes it's clever. But do yourself a favour and read The Luminaries before someone attempts to confine its pleasures to the screen, big or small. It may not be the thing to say these days, but this is a story written to be absorbed from the page."
Lesley McDowell of The Scotsman asked, "Where is the New Zealand Charles Dickens or George Eliot?" adding, "To even ask the question is an act of colonialism, imposing the values of one nation on another. All of which makes me wonder about Eleanor Catton's expansive, and in many places, quite superb, new work."
Catton is this writer's tip to take home the £50,000 prize at tonight's ceremony in London, though history tells us that none of the nominees can be discounted. Catton's The Luminaries and Crace's Harvest may be heading the market, though Colm Toibin's past Booker Prize disappointment reflects that of Julian Barnes.
Barnes was first nominated for the Man Booker Prize in 1984 with Flaubert's Parrot though lost out to Anita Brookner. He was nominated in 1998 with England, England though lost out to Ian McEwan and once again himself found pretending to look gracious in defeat in 2005 when his Arthur & George lost to John Banville's The Sea.
It was fourth time lucky for Barnes in 2011 when his diminutive novel The Sense of an Ending scooped the prize.
Toibin was first nominated in 1999 for The Blackwater Lightship though lost out to J.M Coetzee's Disgrace. His 2004 effort The Master couldn't get past Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty.
Like The Sense of an Ending, Toibin's latest work The Testament of Mary is incredibly short - under 100 pages - and as such, could be too short. He is the 4/1 favourite though isn't paying any attention to the bookies despite that fact they got it spot on with Hilary Mantel's Bring up the Bodies last year.
"The judges could have something entirely surprising, in which case you just to bow your head and applaud the winner," said the Irish novelist, "I won't have a speech in my inner pocket. I'm not doing that this time. I promise."
Graham Sharpe, a spokesman for William Hill, said: "Let's put it this way: if Crace or Catton wins, we lose. If Colm Toibin wins, we probably break even. If any of the other three wins, we get the champers out."
The "other three" that Sharpe speaks of is NoViolet Bulawayo's We Need New News, Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland and Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being. All three boast strong reviews though the bookmakers appear to have discounted them.
The champagne remark is probably wide of the mark given absolutely nobody in the country in betting on the Man Booker Prize, though a win for either Bulawayo, Lahiri or Ozeki would almost certainly represent the biggest shock at the presentation since Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question became the first comedy to win the Booker Prize since Kingsley Amis's The Old Devils in 1986. It usurped the huge favorite Parrot And Olivier In America by Peter Carey and Tom McCarthy's C.
Chair of the judges Robert Macfarlane was giving no clues as to the winner, saying "This is a shortlist that crosses continents, that joins countries and that spans centuries.
"These novels are all about the strange ways in which people are brought together and the painful ways in which they are held apart."
This year's Man Booker Prize is the last year that writers won't have to contend with literary giants from America.
Jim Crace With His Novel 'Harvest'
Ruth Ozeki With Her Novel 'A Tale For The Time Being'
Jhumpa Lahiri With Her Booker Prize Nominated The Lowland
The Fantastically Named NoViolet Bulawayo With Her Booker Prize Nominated Novel 'We Need New Names'
Colm Toibin With His Minature Book 'The Testament of Mary'