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Gay novel wins Booker prize
Updated: 2004-10-20 08:47

British author Alan Hollinghurst has won the Booker Prize, one of the world's most prestigious literary awards, for his critically acclaimed gay novel "The Line of Beauty."

Winning author Alan Hollinghurst.
"This was an incredibly difficult and close decision," said the chairman of the judges, former Culture Minister Chris Smith, after the 50-year-old Hollinghurst landed the Booker at his second attempt.

Organizers confirmed it was the first time in the 36-year history of the Booker that a gay novel had won the prize.

The novel tells the tale of young Nick Guest, an Oxford University graduate living in the London house of a high-flying Conservative parliamentarian at the height of Margaret Thatcher's power.

In the boom years of the 1980s, Guest has a passionate affair with a black council worker before falling in love with a cocaine-addicted millionaire.

In the book's most memorable scene, the hero dances with Thatcher at a party while he is drugged up the eyeballs.

Smith, Britain's first openly gay cabinet minister, said of the panel's decision: "It resulted in a winning novel that is exciting, brilliantly written and gets under the skin of the Thatcherite Eighties."

"The search for love, sex and beauty is rarely this exquisitely done," Smith said of Hollinghurst, who was first short-listed for the prize 10 years ago.

The 50,000 ($90,000) prize bestows instant literary fame on the winner, who can look forward to hitting bestseller lists around the world.

Fellow British writer David Mitchell had been the hottest favorite in the history of the Booker to land the coveted prize for his complex time-machine novel "Cloud Atlas."

But the judges decided after more than two hours of heated debate to go instead for Hollinghurst, who had been consistently quoted by bookmakers as second favorite.

The Booker rewards the best novel of the last 12 months by a British, Irish or writer from the Commonwealth of former British colonies.

Won over the years by such renowned authors as Salman Rushdie and Nobel literature prizewinner J.M. Coetzee, it can lead to lucrative film and television contracts as well as instant literary stardom.

Critics have in the past attacked the Booker judges for picking obscure winners who may dazzle academics but fail to attract general readers.

But the last two winners before Hollinghurst -- Canadian Yann Martel's "Life of Pi" and DBC Pierre's "Vernon God Little" proved to be popular page-turners that attracted a wide audience.

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