Western on 'readable' Booker list

A Western has made its way on to the Man Booker Prize shortlist for the first time - in what judges have hailed as a "readable" shortlist.

The latest novel from British author Alan Hollinghurst - who had been tipped as one of the favourites to win the £50,000 prize and won in 2004 for The Line of Beauty - has been omitted from the shortlist.

But two debut novelists have made this year's list of six books, including a novel inspired by the murder of schoolboy Damilola Taylor.

Favourite to win this year is Julian Barnes, who has a fourth stab at success with The Sense Of An Ending.

The 65-year-old British author has been nominated for the Booker three times previously, but has never won.

The Western in the shortlist, The Sisters Brothers, is by the Canadian author Patrick deWitt, 36.

The "chilling" story of brothers Eli and Charlie details their violent and unsettling experiences in Gold Rush America in 1851, and is said to be reminiscent of films by the Coen Brothers.

Ion Trewin, literary director of the Man Booker Prizes, said: "We can probably safely say, it's the first Western on the shortlist" in the history of the prize.

Former director general of MI5, Dame Stella Rimington, who is Chair of the judges, said: "It's a novel written in the gold rush but it doesn't have Red Indians. It's not that sort of Western at all."

Judges said that they wanted to produce a readable shortlist, rather than books that languish half-read and admired on people's shelves.

Dame Stella said: "We all thought we wanted to find books that all over the country, all over the world, people would read and enjoy.

"We were looking for enjoyable books. I think they are very readable books."

She added: "We wanted people to buy these books and read them, not buy them and admire them."

Politician and author Chris Mullin, one of the judges, added: "Other people said to me when they heard I was in the judging panel, 'I hope you pick something readable this year'.

"That for me was such a big factor, it had to zip along."

He said the judges did not want to pick books that "stay on the shelves half-read".

One of the books that has created some of the most excitement since being longlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction is Stephen Kelman's Pigeon English.

Inspired by the real-life case of 10-year-old Damilola, who was fatally stabbed on a Peckham estate in 2000, it is the story of an 11-year-old from Ghana who arrives in Britain with his mother to live in an inner-city council estate.

When a boy is knifed to death on the high street, the boy starts a murder investigation of his own.

Writer Matthew d'Ancona, one of the judges, said the "magnificent book" was a "linguistic triumph" featuring South London slang and Ghanaian patois that "totally manages to occupy the inner life of someone else".

He said: "It's an exploration of the immigrant condition, what it is to find yourself, particularly as a child, in a state of wonderment and then subsequently disillusionment in a society that's both totally welcoming and hostile."

In some ways, he said, referring to the recent inner-city riots, the novel read "as a form of grim prophecy".

Pigeon English is the debut novel by Kelman, 35, who grew up on a council estate, and the book is set to be adapted into a TV drama.

Dame Stella said of the novel, which for a time sat on a literary agency's slush pile: "We're constantly reading about children being murdered, violence in the streets, and it's a topic that's not only relevant to the riots but many of the things that happen in today's society.

"It speaks about a world that's not necessarily accessible to people that read books in the Man Booker list."

Other books include Snowdrops, the debut novel by AD Miller, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Dame Stella said: "To me, it was particularly interesting, as I did go to Moscow in 1991, just as the Soviet Union was collapsing."

Four of the six books are from independent publishers.

The shortlisted novels also include Half Blood Blues, "about war and its aftermath, secrets and betrayal", by Canadian Esi Edugyan.

British author Carol Birch, who has been previously longlisted, is shortlisted for Jamrach's Menagerie, the story of a young boy who is knocked unconscious by a Bengal tiger in London's East End.

The winner will be announced on October 18 at London's Guildhall.