The shortlist for this year's Man Booker Prize has been announced with Jim Crace already being touted as the "marginal favourite" to take the top literary prize.
He is shortlisted for Harvest, a novel about the fragile social eco-system of a remote English village, which the author has claimed will be his last.
Crace, who was shortlisted once before for Quarantine in 1997, is joined on the list by NoViolet Bulawayo. Her novel, We Need New Names, is about a group of children in Zimbabwe with unusual names: Darling, Chipo, Bastard, Bornfree, Forgiveness and Messenger.
Irish writer Colm Tóibín is another established name (having previously been shortlisted twice), nominated for The Testament of Mary, a short novel about a mother whose son is brutally killed. At just 104 pages it would be the briefest Booker winner yet if it were to take the prize.
The youngest on the shortlist, Eleanor Catton, 27, won her place for second novel, The Luminaries, which is out later this month. Set in 1866 New Zealand, it is a tale of ghosts, murder, smuggling and conspiracy during the Victorian gold rush.
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland is also on the list. The Indian American author, a member of President Barack Obama's President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, provides a glimpse of the suburban streets of Calcutta through the eyes of Subhash who is divided from his rebel Naxalite brother Udayan.
Japanese-American Ruth Ozeki, a practising Zen Buddhist priest, completes the shortlist of six with her novel A Tale for the Time Being - about a woman who discovers, and is profoundly influenced by reading, a Hello Kitty diary washed ashore inside a lunchbox.
"There's a pleasing diversity to the shortlist: they’re six very different books, in terms of both settings and writing styles... But while each of the shortlist offers something memorably unique, I think the judges' debate will ultimately be between Jim Crace and Eleanor Catton," remarks Jonathan Ruppin, web editor for Foyles.
“Harvest, with its fragile lyricism, is the crowning achievement of Crace's consistently outstanding career, while Catton is pushing the boundaries of what fiction can achieve, bringing the vagaries of astrology and the intricacies of the Golden Ratio into the very fabric of how she put The Luminaries together. I've not read anything, Man Booker nominated or not, that comes close to either this year.
“Either book would be a thoroughly deserving winner, but Crace is probably the marginal favourite, if only because it's easier to imagine five people concurring about Harvest than The Luminaries."
Chair of the Booker judges, Robert Macfarlane, remarked on the shortlist's "global range" which he said "shows the English language novel to be a form of world literature".
Macfarlane told this morning's press conference: "We looked for books that sought to extend the power and possibility of the form. This is in keeping with the history of the novel. We wanted novel novels."
He described the judging process as "more UN than Dodge City" adding: "Our tools were evidence, advocacy and debate."
A spokesman for booksellers Waterstones said: "With a multicultural shortlist dominated by women I think the bookies may be wrong this time.
"It's five years since the last 'surprise' winner - The White Tiger - and I think this shortlist gives the judges a lot of options.
The Bookseller's fiction previewer Cathy Rentzenbrink commented that it was a "very exciting" shortlist. She said: "Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries and Jim Crace's Harvest seem to be very clearly fancied, and considered particularly exceptional. I'd also say that Nao, a character who features in Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being, is the most compelling character I've come across all year."
The six shortlisted authors will receive £2,500 and be presented with a hard-bound edition of their book.
The Booker Prize winner, announced in mid October, will receive £50,000.
Last year's winner was Hilary Mantel for Bring Up the Bodies. She became only the third author, after Peter Carey and J.M. Coetzee, to win the prize twice.
Man Booker Prize 2013 shortlist in full:
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Harvest by Jim Crace
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin