The acclaimed French author Annie Ernaux is favourite at the bookmakers to take this year’s Nobel prize for literature.
Ernaux, whose chronicles of daily life in France have seen her acclaimed as one of the country’s greatest living writers, has been given odds of 8/1 by Ladbrokes to take the world’s most prestigious literary prize when it is announced on Thursday. The Nobel, which is worth 10m SEK (£1m), goes to “the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”, according to the will of Alfred Nobel. Contenders are nominated by experts from around the world, with the 18-strong panel of the Swedish Academy selecting the winner.
Ernaux, who told the Guardian in 2019 that “it’s the work of a novelist to tell the truth”, is just ahead of the Canadian poet Anne Carson, Japanese bestseller Haruki Murakami, Russian novelist Ludmila Ulitskaya, Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, Guadeloupean novelist Maryse Condé and Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, all of whom were given odds of 10/1 to take the Nobel by Ladbrokes. The Antiguan-American writer Jamaica Kincaid was at 12/1, and the Norwegian author and dramatist Jon Fosse was at 14/1.
The last French writer to win the Nobel was Patrick Modiano, in 2014. Fifteen French writers have won the Nobel to date, and 16 women. Just five writers from an African country have taken the award: Wole Soyinka, Naguib Mahfouz, Nadine Gordimer, JM Coetzee and Doris Lessing.
“Annie Ernaux and Jon Fosse have seen the largest amount of money wagered this year and both of their odds have been cut respectively,” said Jessica O’Reilly of Ladbrokes. “But, as ever, Haruki Murakami is also being backed heavily and punters are hopeful that this year really is his year.”
Last year, the American poet Louise Glück won the Nobel, praised by the Swedish Academy for “her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal”. Her win followed a dark period for the Swedish Academy, which was hit by allegations of sexual abuse and financial misconduct in 2017, leading to the conviction of Jean-Claude Arnault, husband of academy member Katarina Frostenson, for rape in 2018. Frostenson herself left the academy after she was found to have leaked the names of previous winners. The choice of the Austrian writer Peter Handke as Nobel laureate in 2019 was heavily criticised over Handke’s denial of Serbian atrocities during the Balkans war.
Academy member Ellen Mattson, in an interview posted on the Nobel prize’s website, said that the “only thing” the panel considers is “literary merit”.
She added: “We never look at a person’s personal life. That is totally irrelevant. What we look for is always just excellent literature The winner needs to be someone who writes excellent literature, someone who you feel when you read that there’s some kind of a power, a development that lasts through books, all of their books. But the world is full of very good, excellent writers, and you need something more to be a laureate. It’s very difficult to explain what that is. It’s something you’re born with, I think. The romantics would call it a divine spark.”