John Maxwell Coetzee is pictured in a October 25, 1999 file picture. REUTERS/Str KM

Familiar names headed the shortlist for one of the world's top literary awards on Tuesday with JM Coetzee and AS Byatt two of the six authors left in the running for the coveted Man Booker Prize.

Byatt, 73, who won the prize in 1990 for her novel Possession, makes the 2009 shortlist with The Children's Book, the tale of a famous writer who pens a separate, private book for each of her children, complete with family mysteries.

The novel explores issues of class, love, politics and idealism among families across generations, exploring rebellious sons and wayward daughters who dream of independent futures.

Writers writing about writers also forms the basis of Summertime, the 2009 entry for South African novelist Coetzee, a mainstay of the Man Booker shortlist in the recent years.

Coetzee, who will become the only writer to take the prize three times if he is named winner on October 6, tells the story of a young biographer who is working on a book about the late writer John Coetzee. As he interviews friends and relatives, a complex picture emerges of Coetzee's past and character.

The work completes a trilogy of fictionalized memoirs for Coetzee, 69, who has previously produced Boyhood and Youth.

Coetzee, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003, first won the Booker prize in 1983 for Life & Times of Michael K and repeated the feat in 1999 with Disgrace.

Another notable contender on the shortlist -- and one strongly backed by bookmakers who make her favorite for the 50,000 pound ($80,000) prize -- is Hilary Mantel, 57, whose intricately woven historical novels have a strong following.

Wolf Hall recounts the life and experiences of Thomas Cromwell, a clerk to Cardinal Wolsey during the reign of Henry VIII.


The youngest author on the 2009 shortlist is Adam Foulds, 34, whose novel The Quickening Maze is based on real events that took place near London in the 1840s, telling the story of the incarceration of a nature poet, John Clare, who struggled with alcoholism, critical neglect and depression.

A novel about a house in Czechoslovakia owned by a newly married couple, the Landauers, is the basis for Simon Mawer's entry on the list, The Glass Room. The Jewish-Gentile couple prepare to flee as the threat of World War Two grows.

Alphabetically rounding out the shortlist is The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, which tells of Dr Faraday, who returns to a house, Hundreds Hall, that he has not seen for decades only to realize how the family home has declined.

Waters, 43, has twice been shortlisted for the Man Booker before, in 2002 for Fingersmith and The Night Watch in 2006.

As well as the prize, the winner is virtually guaranteed huge sales in bookstores worldwide.

Bookmakers are already offering sharp odds on the winner, with Mantel's novel odds on at 10/11, Waters and Coetzee at 5/1, Byatt at 6/1 and Foulds and Mawer offered at 10/1.