Frayn is the favourite to win the Booker with 'Headlong'

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The Independent Culture

Michael Frayn, one of only two British writers on this year's Booker Prize shortlist, is the bookies' favourite to win the fiction award tonight.

Michael Frayn, one of only two British writers on this year's Booker Prize shortlist, is the bookies' favourite to win the fiction award tonight.

His ninth novel, Headlong, the elusive story behind a painting which is thought to be a long-lost work of Brueghel, is 2-1 favourite with both Ladbrokes and William Hill to win the £21,000 prize.

The shortlist caused bewilderment when it was announced last month because tipped heavyweights such as Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth and Rose Tremain did not feature. However, the chairman of the judging panel, Gerald Kaufman MP, said: "This shortlist is one of the strongest for years - and choosing one of the six to win the prize will be a really challenging task."

The only other British writer on the shortlist is Andrew O'Hagan, of Glasgow, a film critic and first-time novelist. Also in the running are J M Coetzee, a past Booker winner, and the three-times nominated Indian writer Anita Desai. The Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif and Colm Toibin, from Ireland, complete the field.

The Booker, now in its 31st year, is one of many literary prizes, but is widely recognised as the most prestigious. Each shortlisted author receives £1,000, and the eventual winner receives a further £20,000, as well as a guaranteed surge in sales and worldwide recognition.

Mr Kaufman and the other judges - John Sutherland, Professor of English at University College London, Boyd Tonkin, literary editor of The Independent, the novelist Shena Mackay, and The Independent writer Natasha Walter, meet tonight to make their selection before the dinner and prize-giving at Guildhall in the City of London.

The Booker is open to British or Commonwealth authors and aims to reward the best novel of the year. The judges read 129 novels to come up with their shortlist of six.

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