Man Booker prize 2017: Ali Smith leads sales, George Saunders ahead at bookies

On the eve of the UK’s leading fiction award, Autumn dominates sales of the shortlisted novels, but Lincoln in the Bardo is tipped to take the final prize

Ali Smith is outselling the US writers on the Man Booker prize shortlist with just one day left before the winner is announced – but American author George Saunders remains the favourite at the bookmakers.

According book sales monitor Nielsen BookScan, Smith’s novel Autumn is the commercial winner so far among the six titles shortlisted for the UK’s most prestigious prize for fiction with almost 50,000 copies sold. From the US, Paul Auster’s 4321 comes in second with nearly 15,000 sales. Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo, debut British novelist Fiona Mozley’s Elmet, and British/Pakistani Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West have all sold about 10,000 copies each. History of Wolves, by the American first-timer Emily Fridlund, has sold the least, with a figure of 3,410 copies.

A different measure of success is seen at Ladbrokes, however, with the bookmaker making Saunders its 6/4 favourite to take the £50,000 prize for his novel about Abraham Lincoln’s visits to his son’s grave. Coming in next are Hamid at 7/2 and Mozley at 4/1, with Auster and Smith both at 8/1 and Fridlund the 10/1 outsider.

Acknowledging that Ladbrokes’ favourite has won the Booker only once in the last five years, the firm’s Jessica Bridge said: “The shortlist is still somewhat surprising, and punters’ money is pointing towards a victory for Saunders.”

At Waterstones, fiction buyer Chris White said that sales of the shortlist had been steady. “They are slightly down overall compared with last year, but both Paul Auster’s 4321 and Fiona Mozley’s Elmet are proving extremely popular, and Autumn by Ali Smith, is in our top 10,” said White.

All of the shortlisted titles are dwarfed by sales of two titles that failed to make the move from longlist to shortlist, however: Zadie Smith’s Swing Time and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad have both sold more than 100,000 copies to date.

The winner will be announced at a ceremony in London on Tuesday night. The award was opened to American writers in 2014, and was won for the first time by a US author last year, when Paul Beatty took the prize with The Sellout. Three American writers, Fridlund, Auster and Saunders, are in contention for this year’s prize, prompting questions about its Americanisation. In response, the chair of judges, Baroness Lola Young, said: “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,” she told a press conference to announce the shortlist last month.


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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