The Moor's Last Sigh
by Salman Rushdie
Author's biography: Celebrated prize-winner. Still living under an Iranian fatwa issued in 1989
Plot: The fall from grace of a high-born crossbreed, Moraes Zogoiby, heir to a rich spice dynasty
Critics' view: "All that the reader might hope for is there: the beat and bounce of the writing, the pouring accumulation of the prose..." - Malcolm Bradbury
Judges' view: "An outstanding book in an excellent field"
Readability: Almost zero
Behind the Scenes at the Museum
by Kate Atkinson
Author's biography: Born in York in 1951; lives in Edinburgh with two daughters; former chambermaid and home help
Plot: Tale of Ruby Lennox, grudgingly conceived by Bunty, who really wants to be Vivien Leigh
Critics' view: "Without doubt one of the finest novels I have read for years" - Mary Loudon, The Times
Judges' view: "A wonderfully accessible, hugely readable and absorbing book"
The Wreck of the Zanzibar
by Michael Morpurgo
Author's biography: Has written over 40 children's books; lives in Devon with his wife; runs the charity Farms For City Children, which allows 2,000 children a year to spend a week living and working on a farm
Plot: A storm brings an unexpected harvest ashore for Laura, who lives in the Scilly Isles in 1907
Critics' view: "Evocative, tender and truthful" - Susan Hill, Daily Telegraph
Judges' view: "Deeply moving and believable"
Readability: High, especially if adult
by Roy Jenkins
Author's biography: Former Home Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and President of the EC. Now Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Lords and Chancellor of Oxford University
Plot: Gladstone's life, including his self-flagellation and "rescue" of prostitutes
Critics' view: "Elegant and exuberant" - Sir Robin Day
Judges' view: "A great book about a great man"
Readability: Surprisingly good - pretty racy, too
by Bernard O'Donoghue
Author's biography: Born in Cullen, Co Cork, in 1945. Has published books on medieval literature, which he teaches at Oxford University
Plot: Episodes from the poet's upbringing
Critics' view: "It manifests not only a generous maturity but also an original style" - Elizabeth Jennings, Daily Telegraph
Judges' view: "Has a great sense of place and time and writes about complex themes in a very simple way"
Readability: High in placesReuse content