and JOHN MCKIE
The Booker prize judges yesterday failed to agree on six books for its annual shortlist and listed only five - immediately prompting speculation that the sixth rejected novel was Martin Amis's The Information.
Amis's novel caused huge controversy in January after the author won a pounds 500,000 advance from HarperCollins and reportedly spent much of it for dental work.
The five books the panel submitted for the pounds 20,000 prize were Pat Barker's The Ghost Road, Justin Cartwright's In Every Face I Meet, Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh, Barry Unsworth's Morality Play and Tim Winton's The Riders.
After the announcement, the bookstore Waterstone's made Amis's book the focus of a new promotion. Any customer who buys a novel from the Booker shortlist will be able to buy The Information - retail price, pounds 15.99 - for just pounds 5, raising suggestions that the bookstore was banking on the inclusion of Amis's book in the Booker shortlist.
A spokeswoman said the move was part of a Booker promotion. "Waterstone's is so amazed The Information was left off the shortlist that it has added it as a kind of Booker bridesmaid," she said.
But Adam Mars-Jones, the novelist and film critic who was a judge, said the reality of the five-book selection was that several novels by established authors were considered but none was felt of comparable quality.
"It took two hours' discussion to agree the five," he said. " But there was nothing anybody wanted as the sixth. It would have been five plus one." It is understood that the novel which came nearest, winning two votes for its inclusion, was not The Information.
The truncated list comes as a surprise because it was a vintage year for submissions with a record 141 novels entered, including many by well- known Booker names such as Kazuo Ishiguro, the 1989 winner, and Timothy Mo and David Lodge, who have both been shortlisted in previous years.
The last time only five books were featured was in 1979. Now judges must choose a minumum of four and a maximum of six.
The favourite to win on 7 November is The Moor's Last Sigh by Rushdie, who made his first pre-announced public appearance for seven years three weeks ago. He won the prize in 1981 for his first novel Midnight's Children and the book was named "Booker of Bookers" in 1993 on the prize's 25th anniversary.
The Moor's Last Sigh is his first major novel since he was forced into hiding by Islamic death threats after the publishing of The Satanic Verses.
Indian authorities are reported to have blocked distribution of The Moor's Last Sigh, which has offended the 40,000 followers of the Shiv Shana movement.
But a close contender for the prize must also be Barry Unsworth, particularly since the system of horse-trading used by the Booker judges often throws up surprises. George Walden, the Tory MP and newspaper columnist who is chairman of the judges, said afterwards: "There was great enthusiasm from all of the judges for these five titles. There was no other book which had the same degree of overall support, and we didn't want to compromise for the sake of numbers."
Last year James Kelman won from a so-called "mogadon shortlist" with the expletive- infested How Late It Was, How Late. The judges this year are Mr Mars- Jones, film critic of the Independent, Ruth Rendell, the crime writer, Peter Kemp, fiction editor at the Sunday Times, Kate Kellaway, the Observer's poetry editor, and George Walden.
Germaine Greer, page 21
A short history of the five contenders for top publishing award
The Ghost Road
Set in First World War England, Barker's book deals mainly with the recollections of William Rivers, a neurologist working with the poet Siegfried Sassoon, and the diaries of Billy Prior, a (fictional) young, working- class, bisexual officer.
"A surprisingly unsentimental view of war" (Independent)
"As stories go, these tend to drift along" (The Times)
Just missed the Booker shortlist in 1983 with her previous book The Eye in the Door, which won The Guardian Fiction Prize. Her 1982 book Union Street was turned into the Hollywood film Stanley and Iris, starring Robert de Niro
Barker still lives in her native north-east, where she was born in 1943. She was sceptical about the Booker, saying: "There is a certain amount of unacknowledged resentment among white British writers that the additional tinge of exoticism when it comes to the Booker Prize does a writer no harm at all."
In Every Face I Meet (Sceptre)
Set in 1990, the story revolves around Anthony Northleach, a 41- year- old investment banker, and Chanelle, a 19 year-old prostitute. Anthony is a company director when he meets Chanelle, a crack addict.
"A striking piece of work, sharp, satirical and, in the end, unexpectedly compassionate". (Sunday Times)
"Glitteringly entertaining" (The Times)
Five previously published books include the highly acclaimed Look At It This Way and Masai Dreaming
Born in South Africa, educated in America and at Oxford University, Cartwright is now based in London and is regarded as part of "the new literary generation" alongside Jeanette Winterson and Alan Hollinghurst
The Moor's Last Sigh
Another instance of magical realism from India, the book concerns a cartoonist who rises to become the leader of a fascist movement in India
"The Byron of our day is Salman Rushdie" (Evening Standard) "While Salman has been under the threat of death, he has always been cheerful and brave, has never shown what he felt, but all that is here, in this story." (Sunday Telegraph)
Rushdie won the Booker in 1981 for Midnight's Children and was shortlisted in 1983 for Shame
After six-and-a-half years in hiding after writing the Satanic Verses, Rushdie has annoyed the 40,000 supporters of India's Shiv Shena movement who see comparisons between their leader Bal Thackeray and this book's protagonist
4-5 (first ever odds-on favourite)
Nicholas Barber, a 23-year-old monk, goes walkabout from his Lincoln monastery and stumbles upon gambling, fornication and singing
"Lyrically surprising, unforgettably credible, darkly challenging." (Independent)
"This novel never once engaged my belief" (Evening Standard)
Unsworth was co-winner in 1992 with his most recent novel Sacred Hunger. His 1980 novel Pascali's Island was also shortlisted.
Unsworth lives in Italy, where he wrote Morality Play, a dark and powerful fable about justice. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
Australian Fred Sculley arrives in rural Ireland to renovate a cottage. Renovation completed, he awaits his wife at Shannon Airport but only his daughter, seven, turns up. Sculley then travels around Europe searching for his wife.
"A book about fatherhood, the nesting instinct, the confusions of new man and the importance of the family" (Daily Mail)
"An assured, powerful book" (Sunday Times)
A winner of Australia's premier literary prize, the Vogel, with his first novel An Open Swimmer, Winton has also won the Deo Gloria prize in England, with his previous novel Cloudstreet
Winton, 35, is the dashing young buck of the shortlist, known for his pony-tail and leather jackets. This is a surprise inclusion as The Riders was not on the provisional 'long list' of books selected for the prize. He still lives in Western Australia with his wife and three children