And the Nobel prize for stabbing in the back goes to...

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In the hushed chambers of the Swedish Academy the knives are out again. The jury that awards the world's greatest literary prize is deadlocked, its members too busy settling old scores to concentrate on the solemn task at hand.

In the hushed chambers of the Swedish Academy the knives are out again. The jury that awards the world's greatest literary prize is deadlocked, its members too busy settling old scores to concentrate on the solemn task at hand.

When the clock strikes one in Stockholm today the academy's secretary, Horace Engdahl, will emerge from the committee room and announce the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. It has taken longer than usual but these are extraordinary times. Never before have the members had to labour under the hovering ghost of a laureate.

Discloures by a renegade member have ignited a scandal in Stockholm's café society, with shock waves reverberating on distant continents. For what Lars Gyllensten, former secretary of the Swedish Academy, illustrates in his memoirs is the petty and vindictive milieu inhabited by the world's supreme arbiters of literary taste.

The most sensational allegation Mr Gyllensten makes in Recollections, Only Recollections is that a previous winner was hounded to death by Stockholm's literary establishment. Harry Martinson, awarded the prize in 1974 "for writings that catch the dewdrop and reflect the cosmos", committed hara-kiri with scissors at a Stockholm clinic, the author states.

Martinson shared his prize with Eyvind Johnson. The British reader can be excused for not recalling their names. Not many Swedes can either. Many of their works are out of print in Swedish. But both belonged to the club of 18 that chooses by secret ballot the winner of the Nobel Prize.

Mr Gyllensten, who joined the academy in 1967, voted for them. The Swedish press and Swedish writers thought it was an outrageous decision. The furore drove his friend Martinson to suicide, Mr Gyllensten alleges. In his final revenge, published last month as the academy began discussions, Mr Gyllensten accuses Stockholm's poisonous literary circles and the academy itself.

Academy members are not supposed to discuss the conclave-like selection, yet Mr Gyllensten delves into them with gusto. He tells of his anger, for instance, at the way William Golding was chosen in 1983. Mr Gyllensten, then academy secretary, the leading post, opposed the British novelist but his colleagues sneaked in a vote while he was on sick leave.

In 1987 Mr Gyllensten wanted the academy to condemn the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. The majority declined, prompting a walkout by Mr Gyllensten and two other members, who never returned.

None of this would matter beyond the Stockholm suburbs but the schism at the academy and the endless rows continue to cast a shadow over the world's most coveted literary prize. It is a measure of the academy's standing these days that at least three of its members will not turn up to vote today.

Those present are fundamentally divided. Last year the academy quickly agreed on the German novelist Günter Grass at the end of September. This year's winner should have been chosen by last week, before the other Nobel winners were announced. Today is the last possible date, so a compromise candidate looms.

Even the shortlisted writers are secret, so it is almost impossible to predict the outcome at the best of times. According to Stockholm's rumour mill, the academy wanted to reward Africa this year. Nigeria's Ben Okri and the Somali writer Nurrudin Farah were deemed to be the front-runners. A deadlock favours someone not supported by the two most powerful factions. The names lower down the list include Mexico's Carlos Fuentes, South Africa's J M Coetzee, Albania's Ismail Kadare, the American John Ashbery, or old favourites such as the exiled Chinese poet Bei Dao.

At the risk of tempting fate, all one can say with any certainty is that the winner will not come from Stockholm.

The Swedish Academy - what's left of it - hates Swedish writers.

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