Canadian writer Yann Martel was awarded the Man Booker prize for fiction last Tuesday for his second novel, The Life of Pi. In a bizarre twist, Martel had been announced as winner of the £50,000 prize the previous Thursday on the Web site belonging to the new sponsors, the Man Financial Services Group. The gaffe had propelled Martel to the top of the betting, and he belatedly joined William Trevor as favorite for the award. The judges insisted that the decision was made during a heated 70-minute discussion; the majority in favor of Martel was 4-1 and the runner-up was believed to be Carol Shields.
The Life of Pi is a whimsical adventure story told from the point of view of a 16-year-old Indian boy with a philosophical disposition. The British edition is published by Scottish independent Canongate, which can look forward to a lively sales increase. The book was published in the U.S. by Harcourt in June.
Literary pundits were left reeling at the announcement of Martel's success. The new sponsors had hoped to inject some life into Britain's richest and most prestigious literary prize. They likely were delighted with such an unconventional and unexpected winner.