Book prize-winner loses out

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PARIS (Reuter) - The cream of France's feminist literati yesterday awarded their annual Femina book prize to a male writer, Marc Lambron - but he may not be altogether pleased. Literary commentators said he stood to lose a lot of money by being a pawn in the 90-year battle for supremacy between France's two oldest literary prizes, the Femina and the Goncourt.

Lambron had been widely tipped by critics to take home the Goncourt, the oldest and most prestigious of France's book awards, on Monday. Having now won the Femina he will automatically be struck off the list of contenders. 'It's his misfortune, he won't sell so many copies of his book now,' one member of the Goncourt panel said.

Lambron's L'Oeil du Silence (The Eye of Silence) recounts a fictional affair between Lee Miller - the real-life US model, photographer and muse of the 1920s - and a journalist as they wandered across the shattered Europe of 1944 to 1946.

None of the five leading literary prizes to be announced this month, nor the 1,000-odd minor ones handed out in France, carries a significant financial reward. The Goncourt pays a token 50 francs ( pounds 5.75) and one of the other prizes carries a free meal, but winners can expect a big boost to sales of their works. The Goncourt awarded weeks before Christmas guarantees additional sales of up to 500,000 copies. The Femina, on the other hand, is worth only between 50,000 and 100,000 extra copies.

But the all-female jury of the Femina was determined to rival the Goncourt. They decided to buck tradition by opening the season and in so doing they stole a march on the Goncourt, which has opened November's literary festivities for decades.

The Goncourt was established in 1903 and virtually every year since then has been announced with the same ritual, a gargantuan gourmet lunch served up in the same restaurant, the Drouant, near the old Comedie Francaise theatre.

The British author Ian McEwan won the 1993 Femina prize for a foreign writer for his 1987 novel The Child in Time, published this year in French translation. The novel tells the story of the break-up of a couple after their child is abducted during a shopping trip to a supermarket.