By JILL LAWLESS
LONDON (AP) — An environmental epic that has been likened to “Moby Dick” for trees, the story of an escaped slave and a powerful debut by a 27-year-old novelist are among favorites to win the Man Booker Prize for fiction on Tuesday.
American writer Richard Powers’ arboreal novel “The Overstory,” Canadian novelist Esi Edugyan’s “Washington Black” — about a slave who escapes from a sugar plantation in a hot-air balloon — and British author Daisy Johnson’s Greek tragedy-inspired family saga “Everything Under” are competing for the 50,000 pound ($66,000) prize, which has a reputation for transforming writers’ careers.
The other finalists are U.S. novelist Rachel Kushner’s “The Mars Room,” about a woman serving life in prison; Robin Robertson’s “The Long Take,” a verse novel about a traumatized D-Day veteran journeying through troubled post-war American cities; and Anna Burns’ “Milkman,” a story of family, community and violence set during Northern Ireland’s deadly “Troubles.”
The winner will be announced during a black-tie ceremony at London’s medieval Guildhall.
The prize, subject to intense speculation and lively betting, usually brings the victor a huge boost in sales and profile.
Bookmaker Ladbrokes said “The Overstory” was the favorite to win, followed by “Washington Black” and “Everything Under,” with Johnson’s book closing the gap thanks to a late flurry of bets. Johnson will be the youngest-ever Booker laureate if she wins.
This year’s judges have favored new talent over more established names. Of the six finalists, only Edugyan has been nominated before — for “Half-Blood Blues” in 2011 — and favorites including Canada’s Michael Ondaatje didn’t make the cut from the 13-novel longlist.
Founded in 1969, the prize was originally open to British, Irish and Commonwealth writers. Americans have been eligible since 2014, and there have been two American winners — Paul Beatty’s “The Sellout” in 2016 and George Saunders’ “Lincoln in the Bardo” in 2017.
This year’s finalists include three U.K. authors, two Americans and a Canadian. A third consecutive American victor could revive fears among some U.K. writers and publishers that the prize is becoming too U.S.-centric.