Roth and Updike tipped for the 'super Booker'

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The Independent Culture

The Booker Prize, currently under fire for concentrating on fashionable and quirky writers, will this week attempt to regain its reputation for high seriousness with the launch of the "super Booker", a worldwide search for the living greats of fiction.

The Booker Prize, currently under fire for concentrating on fashionable and quirky writers, will this week attempt to regain its reputation for high seriousness with the launch of the "super Booker", a worldwide search for the living greats of fiction.

While the winners of the main prize, due to be announced next week, must come from Britain or the Commonwealth, the new £60,000 competition will be open to all comers.

The IoS understands that the reading list for the inaugural international prize - compiled at a recent secret meeting in Rome - already includes V S Naipaul, the 2001 Nobel prize-winner from Trinidad; Margaret Atwood, the Canadian who won the Booker in 2000; John Updike, the Pulitzer prize-winner; Gabriel García Márquez, the master of magic realism; and Philip Roth, whose collected works are soon to appear in a Library of America edition.

This week sees the announcement of the full judging panel for the competition, which is likely to become a biennial event. Rather than searching for a particular book, the International Man Booker Prize will reward an author for their "literary achievement". Crucially it can go to one of the many Americans at the cutting edge of world fiction, or to a foreign-language writer.

The launch of the international prize comes after criticism that the main Booker prize has deserted classic writers in favour of untested but quirky artists. The last two winners,Life of Pi by Yann Martel and Vernon God Little by D B C Pierre, showed a marked break from the traditional Booker read.

This year the Booker longlist included many first timers, which again set alarm bells ringing, although it has been trimmed to a shortlist and has largely calmed the nerves. The judging panel for the new prize will be led by Professor John Carey, who chaired the Booker last year when Pierre triumphed. He will be joined by a man and a woman who will be named in the next few days but who have already met to discuss their early thoughts.

The international prize's administrator, publisher Ion Trewin, said: "We have someone who broadly speaking represents the Americas and someone who comes from a Middle Eastern direction.

"We wanted to get away from an Anglo-Saxon approach. Unlike the annual prize there's no set list of books. It's up to the judges to draw up their own."

The three judges have already set the agenda and established a reading list, to be whittled down to a shortlist which will be announced early next year. "We're not in a position to say who is on the reading list but I can say it is a much wider range than that Anglo-Saxon perspective," said Mr Trewin.

"I don't want everybody to start saying it's a lifetime achievement - it sounds like you are only going to get it when you are 90-odd. What we want to do is recognise someone's work but it could be someone who has done remarkably well in a short space of time. It might only be their third book and they are in their 30s but they have changed the landscape."

Early discussions about an international prize led to fears that Americans would be allowed on to the main Booker list, which alarmed Professor Lisa Jardine, who was chairman of the judges in 2002. But she is now optimistic about the move, particularly inclusion of authors who are translated. She has recently been working with the Women's Watershed Fiction initiative for Radio 4's Woman's Hour, which aims to identify the books that change listeners' lives. "As far as I'm concerned it is so important that it includes translation, I dearly hope that it does go to a writer who has been translated."

Booker is already a powerful influence over book sales. Some estimate that winning the prize can add up to a ten-fold increase.

Joel Rickett, acting editor of The Bookseller, welcomed the international prize, but said: "The big question is whether it's just going to go to the usual suspects and are we going to spend the next few years picking off obvious names. Or using it to redress ... the fact that some people haven't been given a Booker.

"There will be a lot hanging on the first choice because that will set the tone."


V S Naipaul

Born into Trinidad's East Indian community, Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul is the consummate international man of letters, turning his hand to short stories, novels, polemic, journalism and travel writing. Born in 1932, he launched his literary career in 1957. His first masterpiece, A House for Mr Biswas (1961), centres upon the Naipaul archetype of the mild-mannered man who seeks comically to better himself. Among the Believers (1981) is a critical assessment of Islam. Latterly, he has been most famous for a spat with Paul Theroux, who detailed his disillusion with his former friend in Sir Vidia's Shadow. Naipaul won a Nobel Prize in 2001.

John Updike

Versatile and prolific, Updike is best known for his brilliant Rabbit tetralogy (1960-1990). He is the chronicler of ordinary, decent, old-fashioned Americans: their aspirations, simple faith and sexual frustrations. His work spans The Witches of Eastwick and Gertrude and Claudius, his 51st novel, the exquisitely woven backstory of Hamlet.

Gabriel García Márquez

A virtuoso of magic realism, the Colombian maestro heard fantastical tales at his grandmother's knee. Equally important to his development was his first career as a crusading journalist. Few have written so passionately about the power of love ( Love in the Time of Cholera, 1985). His greatest novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), tells of the decline of Macondo, a remote village which owes much to his birthplace, Aracataca. He won the Nobel Prize in 1982.

Margaret Atwood

Canada's ice queen is formidably gifted, her oeuvre ranging across styles and genres. As well as sharp feminist fables, she has written poetry, criticism, historical and futurist novels ( The Handmaid's Tale), and has recentlycolonised the world of sci-fi. A perennial Booker favourite, she has been shortlisted five times and won the prize in 2000 for The Blind Assassin.

Suzi Feay