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Jacobson up for second Booker prize

Past winner Howard Jacobson is joint-favourite to win this year's Man Booker Prize as the shortlist was announced today, featuring US authors for the first time.

Two American writers - Joshua Ferris and Karen Joy Fowler - have made the list of six, after a rule change opened the award up this year to writers of any nationality writing in English.

Omissions from the shortlist include popular writers David Nicholls and David Mitchell, both of whom had been included on the longlist which was unveiled in July.

Jacobson, who won the Booker in 2010 for The Finkler Question, and the twice-shortlisted Ali Smith have been installed as the 3/1 joint favourites by bookmaker William Hill.

Jacobson has been included on the 2014 shortlist for his novel J, while Smith is in the running for her book How To Be Both.

Also included in the shortlist are Ferris's To Rise Again At a Decent Hour, Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Australian writer Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road To The Deep North and The Lives Of Others by the the Calcutta-born and London-based author Neel Mukherjee.

William Hill spokesman Graham Sharpe said: "Literary punters are favouring the runners with the best previous form in the event, but this is no two-horse race and whoever gets his or her nose in first on the line will probably be winning in a photo finish, so closely are the six runners matched."

Until this year the prize was restricted to authors from the Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland, but the UK's best-known fiction award - worth £50,000 to the winner - is now open to writers of any nationality writing in English.

The announcement last year that the Booker was dropping its geographical borders came in the wake of the launch of the Folio Prize - seen by many as a rival award - which attracted an international field.

Organisers of the UK's best-known fiction award - worth £50,000 to the winner - announced last year they were opening up the 46-year-old prize to writers of any nationality writing in English.

The dropping of geographical borders came in the wake of the launch of the Folio Prize - seen by many as a rival award - which attracted an international field.

Chair of the 2014 judging panel AC Grayling said: "We are delighted to announce our international shortlist. As the Man Booker Prize expands its borders, these six exceptional books take the reader on journeys around the world, between the UK, New York, Thailand, Italy, Calcutta and times past, present and future.

"We had a lengthy and intensive debate to whittle the list down to these six. It is a strong, thought-provoking shortlist which we believe demonstrates the wonderful depth and range of contemporary fiction in English."

Grayling and the judging panel of Jonathan Bate, Sarah Churchwell, Daniel Glaser, Alastair Niven and Erica Wagner will now re-read the titles to select a winner who will be announced at a ceremony to be staged at the Guildhall in London on October 14.

The shortlist (with odds from William Hill):

:: Howard Jacobson - J (3/1)

:: Ali Smith - How to be Both (3/1)

:: Neel Mukherjee - The Lives Of Others (4/1)

:: Joshua Ferris - To Rise Again At a Decent Hour (5/1)

:: Karen Joy Fowler -We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (5/1)

:: Richard Flanagan - The Narrow Road To The Deep North (6/1)

Chair of the judges Grayling said it was a "very, very rich year".

"It makes the task of judging very, very difficult", he said, but added: "That's just how the cards fell."

He said that the fiction genre was "flourishing" despite competition from other media.

Churchwell said that, while historical fiction had dominated previous shortlists, "fiction about the contemporary moment and the recent past is making a resurgence".

"We had plenty of historical novels but these are all very contemporary novels. The contemporary is coming into its own and finding its teeth again", she said.

She said that some of the novels on the shortlist asked new questions about what it is like to live in a digital world.

The judges took three hours and 40 minutes to whittle down the shortlist.

Judges said the strong British presence on the shortlist was not the result of tokenism and that fears that the prize would be "flooded by quality American novels to the detriment of everything else" following the change in rules had been unfounded.

They described Jacobson's novel, set in a Britain which has been "changed utterly" following "some kind of national tragedy" as "very funny, very troubling and very surprising".

The book, which is also a love story, says things that remain unspoken "except in perhaps the darkest recesses of the internet".

Mukherjee's book is a "sweeping epic" about a wealthy family in decline in Calcutta set against a "tumultuous" backdrop, while Inverness-born author Smith's novel is a "genre-bending" tale about art and its versatility.

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