Last night the honor went to a first-time Indian novelist, Aravind Adiga, for The White Tiger a murder story set among his country's very rich and very poor. Peter Stothard, editor of the Times Literary Supplement, reports.
There can never be a Nobel-style row over whether an American wins the Man Booker Prize.
This is the international literary award that Americans are banned from entering.
Only British, Irish and 'Commonwealth' writers are eligible for the £50,000 cheque —which last night went to a first-time Indian novelist, Aravind Adiga, for The White Tiger, a murder story set among his country's very rich and very poor.
The 'Booker', as it’s commonly known, has over the past 40 years, made itself the world's second most famous award after the Nobels - or so its sponsor proclaimed last night at a dinner of London's literati in the imperial grandeur of the Guildhall.
The man who did most to make that so is Adiga's fellow Indian, Salman Rushdie, whose novel Midnight's Children won the prize itself in 1981, the 'Booker of Bookers' in 1993, and the 2008 ‘Best of Bookers’.
This is a prize ever more appreciated by itself —as well as by publishers who always have hopes (often dashed) that it will boost their sales.
Sometimes the Booker does get the cash-tills ringing —and The White Tiger was proudly proclaimed as ‘a page-turner that knocked my socks off’ by the Chairman of the judges, former government minister, Michael Portillo.
His publishers will certainly hope so. Book shops are anxious places. Amazon is increasingly the only place where literary fiction of the Booker variety has a solid sale. No one last night expected the coming year to be anything but worse.
The White Tiger was not a favourite for the bookmakers. A first novel by a 33-year old journalist, based on letters from a Bangalore businessman to the Prime Minister of China, was always going to be an outsider. The more fancied runners were Sebastian Barry, from Ireland, for The Secret Scripture, a memoire of The Troubles seen from a mental asylum and Amitav Ghosh, a better known Indian, for Sea of Poppies, a tale of the opium trade.
The money for the Booker sponsorship comes from the 'Man' part of the team, a financial conglomerate group whose fancy investment skills are hardly the most fashionable right now.
So this was a night to make friends.
Hedge fund bosses would probably need protection from the London mob if they had not been so successful in the good times in keeping their names and faces out of the press.
Man Chief Executive, Peter Clarke, told his champagne-charged guests that it was delightful to spend his evening in such 'calm and tranquil surroundings'.
This somewhat surprised those in his audience for whom a Booker battle between two Indians, an Irishman, two English and an Australian is as vicious an evening as they normally ever see.
For Mr Clarke and his colleagues the Man Booker was a welcome opportunity for a quiet night when no one (at least not in my hearing) asked 'what did YOU do in the economic collapse?'.
Once the result had been announced on prime time TV, the losers —who also included the English writers, Linda Grant with The Clothes on Their Backs, and Philip Hensher with The Northern Clemency plus the Australian,Steve Toltz, with A Fraction of the Whole—could lose themselves in Man hospitality.
The winner’s answer to the question of what to do with his money was a head-scratching “first find a bank I can put it in”.