London, Sept. 13: Pakistani writers appear to be edging ahead of Indian authors, judging by today's Booker Prize shortlist which sees Arundhati Roy's much anticipated second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, failing to make the cut while Mohsin Hamid is through to the final six with Exit West.
Another Pakistani origin author, Kamila Shamsie, who lives in London, was on the longlist of 13 for her novel, Home Fire, but didn't make the shortlist.
The six authors who are on the shortlist are: Paul Auster (US) for 4321 (Faber & Faber); Emily Fridlund (US) for History of Wolves (Weidenfeld & Nicolson); Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan) for Exit West (Hamish Hamilton); Fiona Mozley (UK) for Elmet (JM Originals); George Saunders (US) for Lincoln in the Bardo (Bloomsbury Publishing); and Ali Smith (UK) for Autumn (Hamish Hamilton).
This year three of the authors on the shortlist are American. There is a feeling that allowing the Americans to compete, which previously they were not able to do, has been a mistake which is "Americanising" what has been essentially a British literary innovation. Critics also point out the Americans have enough literary prizes of their own.
As to why Arundhati Roy is not on the shortlist, it would probably be fair to say there was more excitement about the fact that she had produced a novel 20 years after she won the Booker with The God of Small Things than there was about its actual literary merits.
Reviews were decidedly mixed.
Quite a few readers have felt that rather than being an imaginative work of literature, the book was more a reflection of Arundhati's views as a political activist on such issues as Kashmir.
Hamid's 2007 novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which was also shortlisted for a Booker, was adapted into a much admired movie, directed by Mira Nair and starring Riz Ahmed. The Guardian picked The Reluctant Fundamentalist as one of the books that defined the decade.
Hamid certainly seems to be an author whose star is rising, possibly because there is much more interest in the west about stories from the Pakistan point of view - not least because of the country's ambivalent stance on terrorism.
Exit West is a novel about migration and mutation.
Lola, Baroness Young, chair of the judging panel, said: "With six unique and intrepid books that collectively push against the borders of convention, this year's shortlist both acknowledges established authors and introduces new voices to the literary stage.
"Playful, sincere, unsettling, fierce: here is a group of novels grown from tradition but also radical and contemporary. The emotional, cultural, political and intellectual range of these books is remarkable, and the ways in which they challenge our thinking is a testament to the power of literature."
She said today that "nationality is not an issue in terms of how we decide on a winner - it's what is in our opinion the best book in these six. All we can say is that we judge the books submitted to us, and make our judgment not based on nationality or gender, but what is written on the pages".
Her fellow judge, the literary critic Lila Azam Zanganeh, added that less than 30 per cent of the books submitted for the prize were by US writers, a drop on the previous year. "I feel we are transcultural, increasingly," she said.
Luke Ellis, CEO of the Man Group, sponsors of the Booker Prize, said: "The list represents a celebration of exceptional literary talent, ranging from established novelists to debut writers, that we are honoured to support."