Rushdie award another reason for Amis to sigh

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The Independent Online

Media Correspondent

Salman Rushdie is today named as the winner of the Whitbread Novel Award for The Moor's Last Sigh, making it a near-certainty he will walk away with the overall prize later this month.

His selection means Martin Amis's The Information is again knocked out of the running for a major book prize. It had been shortlisted along with Pat Barker's The Ghost Road, Justin Cartwright's In Every Face I Meet and Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled.

Both Amis and Rushdie also competed for last year's Booker prize. Amis did not make the shortlist, while, to the surprise of observers, Rushdie lost to The Ghost Road at the final selection in November.

It is the second time the Bombay-born author has won the Whitbread Novel Award. The other time was in 1988, for The Satanic Verses, the book which triggered the late Ayatollah Khomeini to call for his death in 1989.

Ironically, his latest novel has also raised hackles, this time among Hindu fundamentalists. One of its characters lampoons Bal Thackeray, the hard-line leader of the Shiv Sena group which in effect runs Bombay.

Evoking memories of the Iranian fatwa, Pramod Navalkar, of Shiv Sena, threatened in August that the party would not allow the book to be sold in the city.

Customs obstructions have subsequently meant it is now almost impossible to obtain a copy in India.

Mr Rushdie said his award for The Moor's Last Sigh, which he describes as "a funny novel about love", was "a nice New Year's present". He added: "I'm very pleased to have the recognition for the novel. It's also nice because it's the second time I've won."

The winners of the four other categories are: Kate Atkinson for the First Novel Award; Michael Morpurgo for the Beefeater Children's Novel Award; Roy Jenkins for the Biography category and Bernard O'Donoghue for the Poetry Award.

The five category winners each wins pounds 2,000 and goes forward to a final draw - for the Whitbread Book of the Year. Worth pounds 21,000, this prize is one of the most valuable and prestigious in the book trade.

It is also an unusual and, some argue, artificial prize in that the judges are forced to choose a winner from five very different styles of writing.

The choice will be made on 23 January by nine judges, including Jane Asher, who runs a cake-making business and has yet to publish a novel; Rachel Cusk, a former Whitbread First Novel winner; Sheena McDonald, a television presenter; and Candia McWilliam, the Edinburgh-born novelist.

Last year William Trevor's bleak book about serial killing in the suburbs, Felicia's Journey, won the Book of the Year prize. The novel tells of the search by a young Catholic girl for the father of the baby she is carrying.