LONDON - Ontario-based author Emma Donoghue hopes her spot on the Man Booker Prize short list will prove to critics that her nominated novel, "Room" — about a young boy cooped up in a shed with his mother — is not a tasteless tale of kidnapping.
"It's so wonderful to have an endorsement like the Booker short list as a way of saying to people: 'Trust me, it's not tacky,'" Donoghue said Tuesday in a phone interview from her home in London, Ont., just hours after being named a finalist for the prestigious fiction prize.
"This book is a serious endeavour and a literary endeavour. It's not some kind of cheap trick."
"Room" has drawn criticism from some who see parallels with the real-life case of Austria's Josef Fritzl, who kept his daughter locked in a basement for 24 years and fathered her seven children.
The Dublin-born Donoghue, 40, has said the Fritzl case put the idea for "Room" into her mind but ultimately it's not an account of it.
"Room" — set for publication in Canada on Sept. 11 and the U.S. on Sept. 13 — is one of six contenders announced Tuesday for the 50,000-pound (US$77,000) Booker prize, which guarantees a glut of media attention and a big boost in sales.
Two-time Booker Prize winner Peter Carey is also a finalist for the prestigious award with his work "Parrot and Olivier in America" — a U.S. odyssey inspired by philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville.
Carey took home Bookers in 1988 for "Oscar and Lucinda" and in 2001 for "True History of the Kelly Gang." He would be the first writer to win the prize three times, but is considered a long shot.
The early favourite, according to bookmaker William Hill, is British writer Tom McCarthy, whose wildly experimental "C'' — the story of a technology-obsessed 20th-century everyman — has drawn comparisons to James Joyce.
William Hill made McCarthy the 2-1 favourite, and offered 5-1 odds on a Carey win.
For rival bookmaker Ladrokes, Donoghue is the favourite.
"I have heard that the bookmakers' favourite never actually wins the thing so one shouldn't pay much attention to these things," said Donoghue, who has duel citizenship and was longlisted for the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize for "The Sealed Letter" ("Room" is her seventh novel).
"I have not bet any money on me. A couple of friends have but I think it's out of loyalty so that they can show me the betting slip and have it as a bit of memorabilia."
"Room" made the Booker long list this past July before it was even published (Newfoundland and Labrador author Lisa Moore also made the long list for "February"). When "Room" finally hit shelves in Britain and Ireland, it was an instant bestseller.
Now, various North American publications — including Oprah Winfrey's O magazine — have it on their must-read lists.
Donoghue — who heads out on an American book tour starting Sept. 20 — says she's blown away by the "sheer goodwill" she's received since making the short list for the prize that Saskatchewan-based Yann Martel won in 2002 for "Life of Pi."
"I always thought that this kind of success would bring out hostility in people but no," she said with a laugh.
"Irish former winners or shortlisted ones like Anne Enright and Colm Toibin have all been in touch, so it's great."
The other prize finalists are "In a Strange Room" by South Africa's Damon Galgut, a previous Booker finalist; philosophical comedy "The Finkler Question" by Britain's Howard Jacobson; and "Small Island" author Andrea Levy's "The Long Song," the story of a slave on a 19th-century Jamaican sugar plantation.
Former poet laureate Andrew Motion, who is chairing the judging panel, said the six books "demonstrate a rich variety of styles and themes — while in every case providing deep individual pleasures."
The winner will be announced at a ceremony in London on Oct. 12.
Donoghue says if she won, she would donate the money to a charity she wishes not to name at this time. She and her partner, Chris Roulston, have already hired a nanny to take care of their children — Una, 3, and son Finn, 6 — so they can be at the ceremony.
"I'm fretting already over what to wear because it's a very formal occasion in a glorious hall," she said.
"I wouldn't miss it."
The run-up to the prize always comes with reams of speculation — and a flurry of bets.
Graham Sharpe of William Hill said gamblers place 1 million pounds in bets on literary prizes each year, with the Booker the most popular of these events.
The company offered 3-1 odds on a win by Donoghue or Galgut, with Levy at 7-1 and Jacobson the 8-1 outsider.
Jonathan Ruppin of Foyles book store chain said it was hard to predict a winner, "but if pushed, I'd suggest Emma Donoghue."
"It's a book which has captured people's imaginations: it puts ordinary people into an extraordinary situation, but it remains believable at all times, even with the challenge of putting a child character at its heart."
The Booker is open to writers from Britain, Ireland or the Commonwealth of former British colonies.
The prize was founded in 1969 and is officially called the Man Booker Prize after its sponsor, financial services conglomerate Man Group PLC.
— with files from The Canadian Press.