Hilary Mantel could become the first British writer to win the Man Booker Prize twice, after her novel Bring Up The Bodies was included yesterday on a shortlist of six for this year's award.
Judges hailed her second book in a historical trilogy about the life of King Henry VIII's chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, as having "even greater mastery" than its predecessor Wolf Hall, which won in 2009.
The annual prize is awarded to the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the UK, the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland.
This year's shortlist also includes South Africa-born Deborah Levy's first novel in more than a decade, Swimming Home. Sir Peter Stothard, the chairman of the judges, said: "This has been an exhilarating year for fiction – the strongest, I would say, for more than a decade."
Only two writers have twice won the Booker Prize: Peter Carey, an Australian, and the South African-born John Maxwell Coetzee.
Ms Mantel, 60, former social worker from Derbyshire, was immediately installed as favourite by Ladbrokes. She will compete against Will Self, who is nominated for his book Umbrella.
The modernist work, Self's ninth novel, is about a woman confined to a psychiatric hospital. It has no chapters and paragraph breaks are rare, with reviewers pointing to the influence of James Joyce's Ulysses.
Ms Levy's Swimming Home was a surprise inclusion because it initially failed to pick up a mainstream publisher, and was funded by subscriptions. The judges said it had technical artistry, flowing prose "and a little Gatsby, too".
The judges will announce the £50,000 prize-winner on 16 October.Reuse content