Web error names winner of England's top literary prize a week early. Winning for ''Life of Pi,'' little-known novelist Yann Martel beats Ireland's William Trevor and fellow Canadians Carol Shields and Rohinton Mistry for the Booker Prize

In England, the granting of the top literary award, the Booker Prize, to one of six finalists is usually the subject of a betting frenzy as fierce as that for Oscar pools. Not this year, however. Last week, as the newly revamped award, now called the Man Booker Prize, launched its new website, it inadvertently revealed the name of the winner, little-known Canadian novelist Yann Martel.

Lisa Jardine, the Booker jury’s chairwoman, told Britain’s Guardian newspaper that the glitch was an honest mistake, an accidental posting of test copy written for the site’s trial, and that Martel still had a ”one in six chance.” Oddsmakers didn’t buy that explanation and called off all bets. When the five judges announced the winner on Tuesday, sure enough, it was Martel, who beat such better known finalists as Ireland’s William Trevor and fellow Canadians Carol Shields and Rohinton Mistry.

The prize went through several other changes this year. It took on the ”Man” name when investment house The Man Group came aboard as a sponsor and more than doubled the cash purse, from about $30,000 to about $70,000, the New York Times reports. There was also talk of expanding eligibility beyond the U.K. and Commonwealth nations to include American writers, but Jardine told the Guardian it would be ”absolutely silly to extend the book to Americans.” Noting such Yanks-only literary prizes as the Pulitzers, she said of American novelists, ”It is not as if they are not well taken care of already.”

The panel also tried to move away from what judge David Baddiel termed ”pompous, portentous and pretentious fiction” and toward more populist works, the Guardian reports. The jury seems to have done that by honoring Martel, who won for his ”Life of Pi,” a magical-realist novel about a youth from India who is shipwrecked and stranded on a lifeboat with a tiger and several other zoo animals. Harcourt published the book in the U.S. in July, when a Times reviewer said that, despite the book’s allegorical nature, it ”works remarkably well on the pure adrenaline-and-testosterone level of a high-seas adventure tale.”

Life of Pi
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