ONLY two authors have won the Booker Prize twice in its 43 years: Australian Peter Carey and South African-born Australian citizen J.M. Coetzee.
So in the crass betting that surrounds the Man Booker, the money is on Hilary Mantel to become the first woman and first Briton to win for a second time for her historical novel Bring Up the Bodies, the sequel to Wolf Hall, which won in 2009.
Although it seems unlikely for an author to be anointed again so soon and for so similar a novel, the judges stoked anticipation with praise for Mantel when they announced the shortlist of six books. Bring Up the Bodies shows ''even greater mastery of method'' than Wolf Hall in Mantel's continued dramatisation of Thomas Cromwell's life, said Sir Peter Stothard, editor of the Times Literary Supplement and chairman of the judges.
However, Booker judges have become known for contrariness, with last year's prize going to Julian Barnes's elegant but ''readable'' The Sense of an Ending and the previous year's to the first ''comedy'', The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson - both disappointing to some critics. The rest of this year's Australian-free shortlist is more unpredictable than Mantel's bestseller.
The loved-and-hated maverick of the list is Will Self, former drug addict and author of eight other novels, whose modernist Umbrella is written in almost a single paragraph and stretches over a century to link stories of an early feminist struck with encephalitis lethargica and an Oliver Sacks-like doctor who treats the disease. Also deemed ''radical'' is Britain's Deborah Levy, whose Swimming Home - about depression and tourists on the French Riviera - was funded by a new subscription model after publishers rejected it.
The Indian poet Jeet Thayil appears with his first novel, Narcopolis, which emanates from an opium den in 1970s Bombay, and the Malaysian Tan Twan Eng for his second, The Garden of Evening Mists, set during the Japanese occupation of Malaya. Another first novelist, the British short-story writer Alison Moore, joins the list for The Lighthouse.
The winner will be announced on October 16.