The thorny themes of international politics feature strongly in this year's Man Booker Prize shortlist, with stories of a Pakistani man disillusioned with the American dream, a boy living in the shadow of the Bhopal disaster and post-industrial Papua New Guinea vyin g for the UK's most prestigious literary award.
With the exception of Ian McEwan, whose novel On Chesil Beach made the shortlist despite controversy over its shortness, the big beasts of the literary world were conspicuously absent.
The six shortlisted novels were whittled down from a long list which, under new rules, had been restricted to 13 books. Sir Howard Davies, the chair of the judges and director of the London School of Economics, said this had led to a more "focused discussion".
The shortlist includes The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the second novel by Mohsin Hamid, who was born in Lahore in 1971 and studied at Princeton and Harvard before working as a management consultant in New York. It explores the conflict experienced by a young Muslim who has been educated in the US, worked on Wall Street and fallen in love with an American woman, who finds himself treated with suspicion in the aftermath of 9/11. Sir Howard described Hamid's novel as "a subtle and thoughtful examination of the raw meat of American capitalism and one man's personal response to working within it."
Indra Sinha, whose second novel Animal's People also made the shortlist, is a former advertising copywriter, born in India, who now lives in France. His book draws on the real-life events surrounding the Bhopal chemical plant explosion, seen through the eyes of Animal, a boy whose spine was twisted and so must walk on all fours. When an American, Ellie Barber, arrives to seek justice for the victims, he investigates her motives. "The book draws on real life events ... but it is in itself a sustained imaginative exploration," said Sir Howard.
A spokesman for William Hill said the betting firm had seen a run on Mister Pip by the little-known New Zealand-based writer Lloyd Jones. After all the other white men have left a Pacific island following the closure of the mine, Mr Watts decides to reopen the school for readings from Dickens' Great Expectations. The judges, who include the actress Imogen Stubbs, the poet Wendy Cope, the writer Giles Foden and the critic Ruth Scurr praised its " very vivid characters".
The longest book, at 838 pages, is Nicola Barker's Darkmans, which opens with an accidental meeting between an estranged father and son in Ashford, Kent, and interweaves past and present. "An ambitious and contemporary ghost story," said Sir Howard. Barker's previous novel, Clear, was longlisted for the Booker in 2004.
In The Gathering, by Anne Enright, an Irish mother returns to Dublin for the funeral of her brother, who has killed himself by walking into the sea. The judges hailed it as an "accomplished dramatic novel of family relationships".
There had been debate over whether, at just 166 pages, McEwan's book qualified. But Sir Howard insisted the judges were content the short novel about newly-weds in Dorset was eligible. Ladbrokes placed the author of Atonement and Saturday at 6/4 favourite.
Joel Rickett, deputy editor of The Bookseller, said: "There are some exciting new writers here; people who are at a turning point in their career. There's a nice blend of historical epic, challenging reads and something much tighter and easier."
Man Booker shortlist
Nicola Barker (Fourth Estate)
Anne Enright (Jonathan Cape)
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Mohsin Hamid (Hamish Hamilton)
Lloyd Jones (John Murray)
Indra Sinha (Simon & Schuster)
On Chesil Beach
Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape)