Australian novelist Peter Carey could become the first author to win the Man Booker Prize three times after it was announced he was on this year's shortlist.
He is joined on the list by bookie's favourite Tom McCarthy who is 2/1 to win the prize with his novel C.
The other shortlisted authors are Emma Donoghue, Damon Galgut, Howard Jacobson and Andrea Levy.
Former poet laureate and judge Andrew Motion said: "It's been a great privilege and an exciting challenge for us to reduce our longlist of 13 to this shortlist of six outstandingly good novels. In doing so, we feel sure we've chosen books which demonstrate a rich variety of styles and themes - while in every case providing deep individual pleasures."
The winner will be announced on Tuesday October 12.
The odds are against Carey carrying off the prize for a third time according to bookmakers William Hill.
He is 5/1 to win behind Emma Donoghue and Damon Galgut who are both 3/1 second favourites.
William Hill spokesman Graham Sharpe said: "There has been a considerable media buzz around all of the books on the short list, and literary punters have staked more money in total on Tom McCarthy to win than any of the other authors, so he is a worthy favourite."
The winner will receive a cheque for £50,000 and worldwide recognition.
Last year's winning novel, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, has now sold more than half a million copies. Each of the six shortlisted authors, including the winner, receives £2,500 and a designer bound edition of their shortlisted book.
The shortlist was whittled down from 138 titles.
Jonathan Ruppin, web editor at Foyles Bookshop, said he was surprised at some of the big names left off the shortlist but that the competition was "wide open".
He said: "The omission of both David Mitchell and Christos Tsiolkas from the shortlist is a real shock. While both writers might rightly feel aggrieved at being overlooked, I imagine it took some wrangling amongst the judges to reduce one of the best long lists in years to six."
Ion Trewin, literary director of the Man Booker prizes, said it was the funniest shortlist in the history of the prize, which began in 1969.
He said: "There's more humour in this shortlist then I can certainly recall in the last decade, or in fact in the history of the prize.
"I'd love to be able to say it's a reaction to the economic crisis but much of the time the life of the novel starts very early on, before the economic crisis."
He added: "There seems to be a great deal of humour out of sometimes more unlikely backgrounds."
Novels with comedy in them were no longer considered unliterary, as they were in the earliest days of the prize, he said.
Chair of the judges Sir Andrew said many of the books on the shortlist had a comic aspect to them.
He said Carey and Jacobson's novels were funny, adding: "(Andrea Levy's) The Long Song has more surprisingly comic aspects to it and I would say there's a hilarity which isn't quite the same as comedy to the McCarthy novel (C) as well.
"Its energy, drive and explosive imagination makes you smile."
He said it "might be" a reaction to the times, written when the world was facing econmic crisis, but could be a "self-sufficient" pleasure rather than a reaction.
Deborah Bull, one of the prize judges, said: "It's partly a generational thing. Since Spitting Image, humour has been a valid way to make a point."
Donoghue said: "I'm flabbergasted to get on to the shortlist. I thought the book might have been too populist.
"It's absolutely fantastic especially since this is a book with a tricky subject - many people are nervous about reading it. But people have to pluck up the nerve and then they realise that they are safe in my hands.
"It is a very dark place I lead you in to but I also lead you into the light."
Donoghue, a mother-of-two living in Canada for the last 12 years, said she felt she had no chance of claiming the coveted prize but would enjoy being on the shortlist.
She added: "As a child I would literally lie awake imagining the Booker ceremony. I was a most unusual child in that way. This is the absolute peak of my career."
Donoghue said she found the story easy to write and attributed some of the ease to the influence of her young son.
"It certainly helped that my son was five when I was drafting the book," she said.
"I'd to concentrate very hard and imagine how a boy like my son would be different - which strengths would be brought out and how he would be different."
Parallels have been drawn between Donoghue's work and harrowing real life house of horror stories such as the Josef Fritzl case, who imprisoned his daughter in Austria.
Donoghue flatly rejected suggestions the news stories heavily influenced her work.
"I've been very open that it was the Fritzl case that put it in my mind," she said.
"But it was just a one line notion. I did not base the book on any of those cases. I'm not interested in writing anyone's true story."
Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2010 shortlist
Peter Carey - Parrot And Olivier In America
Emma Donoghue - Room
Damon Galgut - In A Strange Room
Howard Jacobson - The Finkler Question
Andrea Levy - The Long Song
Tom McCarthy - C