'Paedophile' row threatens book prize

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The Independent Online
THE "LONG-LIST" of authors in the running for the pounds 30,000 Orange Prize for women's fiction is set to spark a new round of controversy when it is unveiled today.

The End of Alice, by American novelist AM Homes, which produced howls of protest when published, is understood to have been one of the books considered by the five-woman panel. It is about paedophilia as seen through the eyes of a jailed child murderer.

Connoisseurs of the literary row will be also looking to see whether the trenchant criticisms of English novelists by last year's chair, Professor Lisa Jardine, have had any effect on nominations.

She accused many English authors of being "smug and parochial," writing "narrow-minded" books with little appeal for the world market. Among those she named were Martin Amis, Graham Swift and Julian Barnes.

The Orange Prize shortlist last year contained no English-born writers, but featured two Canadians, two Americans, a Scot and an author from Northern Ireland. The winner was the Canadian Anne Michaels whose work, Fugitive Pieces, was virtually unheard of at the time.

This year's long-list of 20, from which the final shortlist of six will be chosen, is expected to be similarly diverse, with English authors outnumbered by their Canadian and American counterparts.

The judging panel is being chaired by Sheena McDonald, the broadcaster, and includes the novelist Bernice Rubens.

Among those widely tipped for the long-list are the Indian writer Arundhati Roy, the Booker Prize winner, and American Carol Shields whose book Larry's Party, about a floral designer in Winnipeg was deemed a Christmas book- list "must-read".

Yet, despite Professor Jardine's criticisms, the British publishing interest in bright young women authors is likely to be reflected in names like Rachel Cusk.

Rose Tremain's The Way I Found Her, which was left off the Booker shortlist to widespread disappointment, and The Essence of the Thing by the Australian Madeleine St John, which did make it onto the Booker shortlist, are also likely contenders as is Nadine Gordimer's The House Gun, the latest of her stories of life in the new South Africa.

Sue Townsend, best known for The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, could stand a chance of literary recognition for her recent adult novel, Ghost Children.

But a spokeswoman for the competition stressed that it prided itself on looking out for unknown writers. Unlike many other prizes, publishers are asked to submit five titles for consideration in addition to the three books they nominate.

Announcing last year's long-list, Kate Mosse, the organiser, said: "The reason we announce the long-list is because the point of the prize is not just to pat people on the back and give them a prize, but so that people will try some of the first novels on the list and authors they haven't heard of before."