London: British writer Howard Jacobson won the prestigious Booker Prize on Tuesday with his philosophical comedy "The Finkler Question," beating five other writers, including two-time winner Peter Carey and the bookies' favourite, Tom McCarthy.
Jacobson, who had been on the long list twice for the 50,000 pounds ($80,000) prize but had never been shortlisted until this year, jokingly said he had prepared acceptance speeches for over two decades before eventually winning the award.
"I'm speechless," he began as he took to the stage at London's Guild Hall. "Fortunately I prepared one earlier. It's dated 1983, that is how long the wait's been."
The 58-year-old, who has written 15 novels, is known for his comic touch and his treatment of Jewish themes. His latest, he said, is a comedy about sorrow. The tale, about the lives and losses of two old friends and their teacher, was affected by the deaths of several of Jacobson's close friends, he said.
"These things get to you. What I wanted to do though is to feel that I can go on writing an entertaining novel even though the light deepens and darkens and this does become a very dark novel," he said.
Chief judge and former poet laureate Andrew Motion called the book a "completely worthy winner of this great prize."
"'The Finkler Question' is a marvellous book: very funny, of course, but also very clever, very sad and very subtle," he said.
Jacobson was competing against such strong contenders as Carey, an Australian who won Bookers in 1988 for "Oscar and Lucinda" and in 2001 for "True History of the Kelly Gang." His historical novel "Parrot and Olivier in America," inspired by the American travels of French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville, was on the short list for this year's award.
Lesser-known British writer McCarthy was odds-on favourite for his experimental tale of time and technology, "C." McCarthy's story of a technology-obsessed 20th-century everyman has drawn comparisons to James Joyce.
The other contenders include "Room" by Irish-Canadian writer Emma Donoghue, the story of a boy and his mother held captive in a garden shed; "In a Strange Room" by South Africa's Damon Galgut; and "Small Island" author Andrea Levy's "The Long Song," the story of a slave on a 19th-century Jamaican sugar plantation.
Jacobson had not been widely seen as a favourite for Tuesday's prize, but some say he should have been recognized earlier for his unique blend of the intellectual and the entertaining.
"He consistently combines wit, poignancy, erudition and elegant writing to produce wonderfully accomplished novels," said Jonathan Ruppin, of London's Foyles book shop. "He's a vivid and valuable example of how intellect and entertainment are not mutually exclusive."
The Booker is open to writers from Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth of former British colonies, and the winner often gets a huge publicity boost as well as the check.
Last year's winner, Hilary Mantel's Tudor saga "Wolf Hall," became an international best-seller.
The prize was founded in 1969 and is officially called the Man Booker Prize after its sponsor, financial services conglomerate Man Group PLC.
Jacobson was longlisted for the Booker in 2006 for "Kalooki Nights" and in 2002 for "Who's Sorry Now."
Story first published:
October 13, 2010 12:43 IST