US author George Saunders is the bookmakers’ favourite to take the world’s most prestigious English-language literary award for his first full-length novel “Lincoln in the Bardo”.
The book weaves a tale around the death of Abraham Lincoln’s 11-year-old son Willie, using the accounts of hundreds of narrators.
He would become the second US author to win the prize following last year’s victory by Paul Beatty, for his novel “The Sellout”.
The prize, which was launched in 1969, was only opened to non-Commonwealth authors from 2013 — a decision that was highly controversial in Britain.
Washington Post critic Ron Charles urged Britain to “please take your Booker Prize back home” in a recent article bemoaning the homogeneity of US culture.
“For any serious reader of fiction in this country, the Americanisation of the Booker Prize is a lost opportunity to learn about great books that haven’t already been widely heralded,” he wrote.
Debut writer Emily Fridlund is in the running with “History of Wolves”, an exploration of teenage desire through a 14-year-old girl in Minnesota.
Fellow debut novelist Fiona Morley, 29, is on the list for “Elmet”, which tells the story of a father and his two children and their battle with a local landowner.
The British writer raised eyebrows when she revealed that she had written the story on her phone while commuting.
Paul Auster makes up the US contingent with “4321”, a coming-of-age narrative that replays the life of its protagonist four times over, highlighting how minor events can trigger a chain reaction with deep-lasting effects.
British author Ali Smith makes the shortlist for the fourth time with “Autumn”, written in response to Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
British-Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid makes his second appearance on the shortlist with “Exit West”, in which mysterious black doorways whisk people to far-off countries in an exploration of immigration.
The winner, who will be announced at a London ceremony, is guaranteed a huge increase in global sales that dwarfs the £50,000 (55,400 euros, $66,400) prize.
Previous winners of the prize, launched in 1969, include Ian McEwan, Iris Murdoch and Salman Rushdie.
The final six were whittled down from a longlist of 13, with former winners and big names such as Arundhati Roy, Zadie Smith and Sebastian Barry controversially missing out.
“This shortlist is just baffling,” said the Daily Telegraph’s Anthony Cummins.
“Clearly they’ve tried to favour novels that take a narrative gamble, that have been overlooked by other prizes,” he added.
Organisers defended their choices as “six unique and intrepid books that collectively push against the borders of convention”.
“This year’s shortlist both acknowledges established authors and introduces new voices to the literary stage,” said Baroness Lola Young, who chairs the judging panel.