(AP) Britain's Jim Crace and New Zealand's Eleanor Catton are the favorites to win the prestigious Booker Prize for fiction on Tuesday, among six contenders who include the first female African finalist and a Zen Buddhist priest.
Bookmakers say Crace's village parable "Harvest" and Catton's sprawling gold-rush saga "The Luminaries" were leading the betting for the 50,000 pound ($80,000) award, followed by Colm Toibin's Bible-inspired novella "The Testament of Mary."
Crace, at 67, is the oldest writer in contention while Catton is the youngest at 28.
The other finalists are the Indian-American journey "The Lowland," by Pulitzer Prize-winner Jhumpa Lahiri; the shantytown-set story "We Need New Names" by Zimbabwe's NoViolet Bulawayo; and the Pacific-crossing tale "A Tale for the Time Being" by Canada's Ruth Ozeki, who is also a Buddhist priest.
The Booker, which brings huge publicity and a sales boost for its winners, is closely followed by readers, booksellers and literary gamblers.
The diversity of the list makes this year's contest especially unpredictable. Crace and Toibin are both previous Booker finalists. The other four writers all women are first-time nominees.
The winner will be announced during a ceremony at London's medieval Guildhall, with Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, on hand to present the award.
Founded in 1969, the award is open to British, Irish and Commonwealth authors. That is about to change beginning next year, Americans and other English-language writers will be able to enter as well.
There is already a strong American accent to this year's contest Lahiri, Bulawayo, Toibin and Ozeki are all at least partly U.S.-based.
The rule change aims to expand the scope and prestige of the Booker, but some fear it may alter the delicate chemistry of the prize.
The award is officially named the Man Booker Prize after its sponsor, the financial services firm Man Group PLC.
Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless