New Zealand author biggest literary Booker gamble

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LONDON, Oct 14 (Reuters) New Zealand writer Lloyd Jones, target of the biggest gamble in the history of the Booker Prize, is hot favourite to land one of the world's most famous literary awards on Tuesday.

Literary punters plunged on Jones when he first came into contention as a 20-1 outsider and his odds have now plummeted to a slim 6-4.

He displaced as favourite British author Ian McEwan, bidding for his second Booker with the novella ''On Chesil Beach'' about a Catastrophically shy young couple's wedding night.

Graham Sharpe, spokesman for bookmakers William Hill, said: ''There has never been a betting plunge like this on the Booker.'' ''If Jones wins on Tuesday night, we will be making a six-figure payout to happy literary punters,'' he added.

Much to his own bemusement, Lloyd Jones was thrust into the limelight when shortlisted for ''Mister Pip'', set at the start of Papua New Guinea's bloody 10-year civil war.

It tells the tale of the eccentric Mr Watts, who takes over as village teacher on the island of Bougainville in 1991, using Charles Dickens' ''Great Expectations'' as his one and only text for the children.

After making the shortlist, Jones said of the literary spotlight suddenly being switched onto a relatively unknown writer: ''It feels great. It gives the book a much bigger profile in the northern hemisphere.'' The Booker, won in the past by a string of renowned authors from Salman Rushdie to J M Coetzee, has attracted an international field of would-be literary stars in 2007.

Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid makes the shortlist for ''The Reluctant Fundamentalist'' which tackles the fears of a post-9/11 world through the eyes of a New York businessman.

Indian novelist Indra Sinha made the last six for ''Animal's People'' about the Bhopal chemical leak.

Dubliner Anne Enright was selected for her family epic ''The Gathering'' and the list is completed by Londoner Nicola Barker for her contemporary ghost story ''Darkmans.'' The Booker, founded in 1969, rewards the best novel of the year written by a writer from Britain, Ireland or a Commonwealth country.

It invariably stirs controversy in literary circles with critics bemoaning its shortlist as worthy, turgid and unreadable in sharp contrast to the finalists for other more populist prizes.

Reuters PD GC1545

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