BOOKS / In the lists

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The Independent Culture
BETWEEN the polar extremes of Fred Dibnah and H M The Queen, the hardback biography list shows a pleasingly literary face, with Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Roald Dahl and Charlotte Bronte all sedately jostling for position. Biography seems to be on a definite roll at the moment, a trend underlined by last week's announcement of the shortlist for this year's NCR prize, for which any kind of non-fiction is eligible - all four books in contention for the pounds 25,000 jackpot (the biggest in the British book-prize field) are lives of famous men: Paul Preston's Franco, John Campbell's Edward Heath, Andrew Motion's Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life and Robert Kee's book about Parnell. If you're prepared to grant that the poet Larkin's seethingly impassioned plain-speaking about Middle England values amounted to a political view, it's an unusually political list. The bookies are backing the Irish: Kee is currently favourite at six to four, Heath and Motion are tied at a cautious nine to four, while Franco remains the outsider at six to one. Who bets on these things? Well, the candidates themselves, of course.

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