Booker Prize Betting: Second time lucky for Deborah Levy?

Deborah Levy when she was nominated for the Man Booker in 2012
Deborah Levy when she was nominated for the Man Booker in 2012
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This year's Booker Prize winner will be announced on Tuesday night so Max Liu discusses a strong shortlist and selects his best bet...

"Levy was an indie publishing sensation when she made the shortlist with Swimming Home in 2012. Her new novel, Hot Milk, divided critics when it appeared in March but those who praised it did so enthusiastically."

It's a long time since I've had a bet on the Man Booker Prize. I correctly tipped Howard Jacobson at 8/1 in 2010 but suffered consecutive disappointments when favourites Julian Barnes and Hilary Mantel took English language fiction's most prestigious prize in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Since then I've steered clear of the Booker as a betting event.

So what brings me back in 2016? A strong, wide open field and, following Jamaican novelist Marlon James's victory last year, a renewed sense that outsiders can cause an upset. There's also the small matter of my recent winning 8/1 tip at the Mercury Music Prize - the second year in a row I've called it right - which makes me wonder if I can transfer my luck to the world of books. That said, I'm promising nothing as the Booker remains very difficult to read.

While I've been away, one major change has taken place in Man Booker world: Americans are now eligible. When the prize was opened to writers from across the pond in 2013, some commentators feared Jonathan Franzen et al would dominate. So far, though, the Booker is yet to go to an American.

I'll be surprised if Ottessa Moshfegh, who's the 8/1 outsider for Eileen, changes that this year, although The Sellout, Paul Beatty's hilarious satire on race relations in America, is certainly in the running at 4/1. Beatty's publishers, One World, won this prize with A Brief History of Seven Killings last year but I'd want longer odds on them making it two out of two.


Will we see a first British winner for four years?

The past three winners have come from Jamaica, Australia and New Zealand. If a British writer is to triumph in 2016 it will be one of David Szalay or Deborah Levy (who were born in Canada and South Africa respectively) or Scotsman Graeme Macrae Burnet.

Szalay is 7/2 for All That Man Is. Reviewing this book, I wasn't as enthusiastic as other critics - I didn't think it cohered as a novel and, with notable exceptions, found its focus on white middle-class male protagonists stultifying - but Szalay has influential admirers and his examination of contemporary Europe is acute and topical.

Victory for Macrae Burnet would be an incredible story. His Bloody Project is published by a tiny Scottish press and, before he was longlisted for the Man Booker, I'd never heard of him. At 5/1, he's the one to back if you're a romantic but I'm not sure the judges will be willing to give the prize to a crime thriller.


It's Levy v Thien

Levy was an indie publishing sensation when she made the shortlist with Swimming Home in 2012. Her new novel, Hot Milk, divided critics when it appeared in March but those who praised it did so enthusiastically. Its place on the shortlist means Levy has keen admirers among the judges, although if Hot Milk splits them then a compromise nominee could be the beneficiary.

That nominee could well be Canadian writer Madeleine Thien who is, at 5/2, joint favourite with Levy. Thien's novel, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, has been hailed as "magisterial, moving and extraordinary" meditation on communist China. It travels from the civil war through the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 to the present day. It's the kind of serious, sweeping fiction that wins the Man Booker Prize.

So who will win? I think the market calls it right; the previous two Booker winners were men but this year it's probably between Levy and Thien. I'll back Levy to make it second time lucky.

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