Maybe this year Beryl will be the bride

`A short, bittersweet novel about a writer who very nearly gets a prize with a short, bittersweet novel'

IN CASE you missed it when it came out, here is the full shortlist for the 1999 Booker Prize. For those who want to get a bet on one of the runners, we also provide a brief description of each, the current odds, and a guide to how they are expected to run on the great day itself.

The Great Irish Novel (Vol 1), by Roddy Doyle.

Roddy Doyle's great Irish novel will go through the 20th century year by year, so this first volume covers events in 1901 as seen by the hero, Henry. It is thought that the Booker judges will see how he does up to and including Irish independence before giving him the big prize. 100/1 against.

Winning Is Not The Only Fruit, by Beryl Bainbridge.

A short, bittersweet novel about a writer who very nearly gets a prize with a short, bittersweet novel, but is pipped at the post by someone with an unpronounceable name. This is plainly autobiographical, as last year Beryl very nearly won with her novel Boy George, and so many people thought she ought to have won that she is said to have done better than the winner, whose name nobody can now remember. Bainbridge is said to be unhappy at the thought of winning this year and would prefer to be bridesmaid again, as there seems to be more money in it. 10/1.

I Will Do My Best To Serve This Constituency, And Failing That To Use It As A Springboard To The Tory Leadership, by Michael Portillo.

The terse, tense tale of a man who fell from near-greatness and climbed back up the greasy pole of politics, leaving some nasty stains on his overalls. Most of the action takes place in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, on candidate's selection night, when the hero is questioned closely by the Tory board on why he hasn't brought a wife along.

"May I remind you that your previous sitting member, Mr Clark, brought a wife along to this meeting," replies the hero, "and that didn't exactly guarantee good behaviour, did it?"

Typically tough dialogue. TV rights already bought. Could be a goer. 15/1.

Balti Restaurant Du Lac, by Anita Desai-Brookner.

Curious little novel about an elderly, loveless British spinster who is adopted by a frantically extended Indian family running a busy restaurant. She causes a flutter by introducing new techniques of napkin-folding. Takes Anglo-Indian writing a step beyond most efforts in the genre. Comes with some interesting recipes. Good outsider. 25/1.

Paddy Doyle, Ho Hum, by Colm Toibin.

Somebody once said the Irish are the Jews of Europe. No, hold on, it was the blacks of Europe. Or was it the cockneys of Europe? Anyway, there hasn't been an Irish winner for a while, not by a writer with a proper Irish name, anyway, so this is worth a bet as a prosperous outsider. Hang on, maybe the Irish are the Anglo-Indians of Europe? In that case, it's definitely worth a flutter. 50/1

Or Is It The Scots Who Are The Irish Of The United Kingdom? by Andrew O'Hagen.

An ambitious attempt to win back the Booker for Scotland. Their lone previous success was by James Kelman, with a book which was so full of four-letter words that many people reckon he should have got the Perrier Award instead. What is ambitious about this bookis that not many Scottish authors have a Dutch name with an Irish prefix. Still, at least "Andrew" is Scottish.5/1

Cumberland, Dumberland, by Melvyn Bragg.

An ambitious attempt to write a sophisticated modern novel about such contemporary figures as Joan Collins, Paul Merton, Michael Flatley, Ringo Starr and Bjork, who are woven into a narrative that takes them from the South Bank of the Thames across to the other side for lunch and back again, then off to Cumbria for the weekend. Looming over this cosmopolitan minestrone is the larger question: where are the jokes? Still, Melvyn Bragg has never won the Booker. The Booker has never been won by someone who has won it before. Draw your own conclusions. 100/1.

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