A childhood tale set in Libya, a 19th-century Australian saga and a story of love and loss in World War II are among the finalists announced for the Man Booker Prize, Britain's most prestigious award for fiction.
As usual, the choices were contentious, with several of the most hotly-tipped candidates failing to make the cut.
The six books short-listed by a panel of judges are: - In The Country Of Men, Hisham Matar's semi-autobiographical first novel about childhood in Moammar Gaddafi's Libya; The Secret River, Kate Grenville's tale of life in a 19th-century Australian penal colony; The Night Watch, British writer Sarah Waters' novel about characters whose fates intertwine during World War II; Inheritance Of Loss, Indian writer Kiran Desai's cross-continental saga set in New York and India; Carry Me Down, the story of an unusual boy, by Irish-Australian novelist M.J. Hyland; Mother's Milk," portrait of a rich but dysfunctional family by English writer Edward St. Aubyn.
Bookmaker Ladbrokes made Waters the 6-4 favourite. Matar - who grew up in Tripoli and Cairo and now lives in England - and Desai were joint second-favorites at 4-1.
"Each of these novels has what we as judges were most looking for: a distinctive, original voice and audacious imagination that takes readers to undiscovered countries of the mind, a strong power of storytelling and a historical truthfulness," said critic Hermione Lee, who heads this year's judging panel. The winner of the £50,000 (US$94,000, €74,000) award will be announced at a ceremony in London on October 10.
Some of the biggest names on the 19-book long-list did not make the cut, including David Mitchell - whose Black Swan Green had been the bookies' favourite and Australia's Peter Carey, a two-time Booker winner long-listed for Theft: A Love Story. Andrew O'Hagan's Be Near Me, another critical favourite, also was omitted.
"These were all books that had extremely strong support and books which we thought were really considerable and moving and impressive, but in the end some books are more exciting and interesting to you than others," Lee said.
The prize, which is open to writers from Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth of former British colonies, was founded in 1969 and long known as the Booker Prize. It was renamed when the financial services conglomerate Man Group PLC began sponsoring it four years ago.