Haruki Murakami joint favourite to win Nobel prize for literature

Three days before the winner is announced, novelist shares odds of 4/1 with Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, while Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich is third favourite at 7/1

With just three days to go before the 2014 Nobel prize for literature is awarded, Haruki Murakami and the Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o are joint favourites to win the literary world’s greatest honour.

The Swedish Academy announced this morning that the winner of the literature Nobel would be revealed on Thursday 9 October at 1pm CET (noon BST). Ladbrokes, which has frequently seen the eventual victor surge to the top of its odds in the days before the announcement, said today that Ngũgĩ and Murakami were, at 4/1, joint favourites to win Thursday’s eight million kronor (£693,000) prize.

“It was looking for months as though Murakami would head into the announcement day as the hot favourite, but [Ngũgĩ] has captured the imagination late on (odds cut from 12/1, to 6/1 then 4/1) and he could easily become the clear favourite very soon,” said Ladbrokes spokesman Alex Donohue.

Third placed at Ladbrokes is Svetlana Alexievich, the Belarusian investigative journalist, at 7/1, with the Syrian poet Adonis at 10/1, together with the French novelist Patrick Modiano. The US novelist Philip Roth, Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse and Austrian writer Peter Handke – who recently won the International Ibsen prize – are all at 12/1.

“Alexievich was at the centre of an eyebrow-raising late gamble last year but the public seem to have gone cold on her this time as only seven bets have been placed on her to win. On that basis, it could be argued that her odds should be longer than 7/1; however, we’re still aware of her popularity after last year and we don’t want to be lulled into dismissing her,” said Donohue.

“Philip Roth is currently the most popular writer on this list and incredibly, despite getting their fingers burnt last time, it seems that literary punters and fans alike are happy to back Bob Dylan again at 50/1. Sixty-five per cent of stakes for Dylan are from Sweden, too, which is always interesting. The writer who has seen their odds crash in the biggest way is Peter Handke, who [fell] 12/1 from 50/1, thanks to his win in the Ibsen prize.”

Murakami was described by Ladbrokes as the “readers’ favourite”. He has been at the top of the list since the publication of his novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage earlier this year. 

In February, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Peter Englund, said it had received 271 nominations for this year’s Nobel literature laureate, which resulted in a list of 210 names, 36 of which were being considered by judges for the first time. The academy – 18 members; a mix of writers, poets, literary scholars and others – sets out to reward the author “who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”. Last year’s winner, the Canadian short story writer Alice Munro, was praised as the “master of the contemporary short story”; the previous year Chinese writer Mo Yan won for his “hallucinatory realism [which] merges folk tales, history and the contemporary”.

Englund explained a little more about the judging process on the Nobel’s website. “In February all the received nominations, usually a bit over 200, are reviewed. They are then processed by the Nobel committee. The work is supported by the Academy’s own employees, but also outside experts are hired for translations, statements and the like. First, we make a list of over 20 names. From this, we eventually make a shortlist of five names. The shortlist is discussed and approved by the Academy in its entirety in May. Then the members have the summer to learn about the five authors on the shortlist. When the Academy then meet again in mid-September, it is always the Nobel prize that is the top priority. We usually have agreed on a decision in early October,” he wrote.

Englund added that it was “not difficult to find worthy candidates”. “There are many: the world is so big … The hard part is to select who will get it,” he wrote, revealing that when judges disagree, “the prize is determined after long discussions and with a majority vote.”

“I’ve never experienced a prize where everyone was in full agreement. If so, it would be really strange,” he said.

The Academy attempts to inform each year’s winner of their victory half an hour before the official announcement. Last year, however, Munro was told of her win by her daughter, while in 2007 Doris Lessing was enlightened by reporters as she exited a London cab.


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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