LONDON Six authors are contesting the coveted Man Booker Prize for fiction awarded later on Tuesday, although if bookmakers are to be believed it is a two-horse race between 2009 winner Hilary Mantel and first-time nominee Will Self.
The fact that Mantel and Self, both British authors, are the most recognizable names on the shortlist this year may help explain their more favorable betting odds for one of English literature's best known prizes.
Mantel is nominated for "Bring Up the Bodies", the sequel to her acclaimed "Wolf Hall", which picks up the action in King Henry VIII's court in 1535 at the time of Anne Boleyn's spectacular fall from grace and execution the following year.
Should the 60-year-old author win the 50,000 pound ($80,000) prize announced at a glitzy dinner in the medieval grandeur of London's Guildhall, she would become both the first woman and first Briton to win the Booker twice.
South African-born J.M. Coetzee and Australian Peter Carey are the only authors to have "done the double".
Self has made it to the final showdown with "Umbrella", a modernist tale spanning a century and following Audrey Death, woman who falls into a coma at the end of World War One only to be awoken decades later when Dr. Zack Busner discovers a cure.
The writer has said he wanted to challenge what he called "profoundly conservative narrative fiction" with a book that critics have variously described as "sprawling", "draining" and "moving".
Up against the literary "establishment" are two first-time novelists.
"The Lighthouse", by short story writer Alison Moore, follows Futh, a man still troubled by his mother abandoning him as a child.
He heads to Germany to escape from the unhappiness of a broken marriage and comes across Ester, the creepy landlady of a hotel in the ominously named town of Hellhaus.
Indian writer and poet Jeet Thayil has been nominated for "Narcopolis", set in Mumbai in the late 1970s and, more specifically, Rashid's opium house whose languorous existence abruptly changes with the arrival of the new drug heroin.
Malaysia's Tan Twan Eng made it to the Booker longlist with his first novel "The Gift of Rain" in 2007 and is shortlisted in 2012 for "The Garden of Evening Mists", narrated by Yun Ling Teoh who is the sole survivor of a Japanese prison camp.
"Swimming Home" by playwright and novelist Deborah Levy explores the devastating effect depression can have on apparently stable people, and has been described by the author as a "page-turner about sorrow".
As well as the prize money, the winner of the Man Booker Prize awarded to an author from the Commonwealth, Zimbabwe or Ireland is virtually guaranteed a significant spike in sales.
Research by the Guardian newspaper showed that Mantel's Wolf Hall, for example, sold 35,900 copies before the award was announced and nearly 600,000 afterwards.
The year before, Aravind Adiga's "The White Tiger" had sold just 5,703 copies before it won the Booker, rising nearly a hundredfold to 551,061 afterwards.
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)