Spy novelist Le Carre cold on Booker honour

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British thriller writer John Le Carre asked Wednesday that his name be withdrawn from the shortlist for the prestigious Man Booker International Prize, leaving judges stumped about what to do.

The best-selling spy novelist was among 13 authors in consideration for the 60,000 pound ($96,070) literary award, which for the first time included Chinese authors in Wang Anyi and Su Tong.

The chair of the judging panel, writer, academic and rare-book dealer Rick Gekoski said he received a statement from Le Carre only 45 minutes before the announcement of the shortlist in Sydney.

"It reads: 'I am enormously flattered to be named as a finalist. However I do not compete for literary prizes and have therefore asked for my name to be withdrawn'," he said.

Gekoski said the judging panel, which also includes publisher, writer and critic Carmen Callil and South African-born novelist Justin Cartwright, would make a decision later on how to proceed.

"Mr Le Carre, whose fiction we admire enormously, will continue of course on the list of the finalists which have already been distributed around the world," Gekoski said.

Authors or publishers cannot submit works for the Man Booker International Prize, which is distinct from the annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction in that it highlights an author's body of work rather than a single book.

Instead, the shortlist and ultimate winner are determined by the judges.

Le Carre is believed to be the first writer to ask to be withdrawn from consideration since the inaugural prize was awarded to Albanian writer Ismail Kadare in 2005.

His stand has left the judges perplexed.

"Technically I don't suppose he can withdraw the honour... but I don't think you could give him the prize if he didn't want it," Cartwright said.

However, Callil responded: "Well I do."

The judges said they read widely, particularly from China, before coming up with this year's shortlist, admitting that the giant communist country should have been on the list before.

"Once you investigated what's going on in China, there they were," Callil said of Wang Anyi, whose Shanghai novels include 'The Song of Everlasting Sorrow', and Su Tong, writer of 'Raise the Red Lantern: Three Novellas'.

"These are not new Chinese writers, these are writers who were all born before the Cultural Revolution and they have been writing for a long time," Callil added.

"The problem, of course, is translation. These two could do with more translation."

The prize is due to announced in Sydney on May 18.

Shortlist for the Man Booker International Prize 2011:

- Wang Anyi (China)

- Juan Goytisolo (Spain)

- James Kelman (UK)

- John Le Carre (UK)

- Amin Maalouf (Lebanon)

- David Malouf (Australia)

- Dacia Maraini (Italy)

- Rohinton Mistry (India/Canada)

- Philip Pullman (UK)

- Marilynne Robinson (USA)

- Philip Roth (USA)

- Su Tong (China)

- Anne Tyler (USA)

© 2011 AFP

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