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Banville pulls off Booker coup

Unheralded Irish stylist John Banville scooped the prestigious Man Booker prize 2005 for fiction.Special: Man Booker 2005

india Updated: Oct 22, 2005 22:59 IST

It was literally a coup Monday night as unheralded Irish stylist John Banville scooped the prestigious Booker prize for fiction.

Author of The Sea, Banville, 59, had been placed a 7-1 outsider by bookies and when the announcement was made, critics said it was one of the "biggest literary coups" in the history of fiction writing.

Banville said he would spend the 50,000-pound prize money on "good work and strong drink".

Judges' chairman John Sutherland said the contest had been "painful" because it was very close. He cast his chairman's vote to decide the prize in Banville's favour.

Until then, the judges were tied, with two backing Banville and two, it is understood, supporting the runner-up, Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.

Banville told the audience his success came as a "great surprise" to him.

He said, "Even if I'd lost I would still think it was a good year for the Booker. It's been a good year for fiction."

"It's nice to see a work of art winning the Booker Prize - whether it's a good work of art or a bad one, it's what I intended it to be."

"I am very encouraged that people have responded to a book that's very carefully crafted."

It is second time lucky for Banville, whose novel The Book Of Evidence was short-listed for the Booker in 1991. Then, it was Ishiguro who came out on top with The Remains Of the Day.

The Sea is Banville's 14th novel and is described as a victory of style over a melancholy content, which makes his book one of the least commercial amongst the six books short-listed for Booker.

His protagonist, a querulous, hypersensitive, elderly art historian, loses his wife to cancer and feels compelled to revisit the seaside villa where he spent childhood holidays, being alternately cosseted and bullied by a wealthier boy and girl.

His ambiguous relations with the children lead to sexual awakening but also to dire tragedy.

The Guardian said of the author, "Banville writes novels of complex patterning, with grace, precision and timing, and there are wonderful digressive meditations."

The Booker prize is expected to bring Banville a further 60,000 pounds from Christmas sales this year. Ishiguro's novel had already achieved hardback sales of almost 24,000, worth 300,000 pounds, according to sales figures up to last Tuesday. By contrast, The Sea had sold only 3,318 copies.

Also on the shortlist this year were Arthur & George by Julian Barnes, A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry, The Accidental, by Ali Smith and On Beauty by Zadie Smith.

First Published: Oct 11, 2005 18:18 IST