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Australia-born writer wins Booker

H S Rao in London | October 15, 2003 04:09 IST
Last Updated: October 15, 2003 10:16 IST

D B C Pierre, a little-known Australian-Mexican author with a murky past walked off with the 50,000 pounds Man Booker Prize for his debut novel Vernon God Little edging out the lone Asian contender Monica Ali of Bangladesh for Britain's most coveted literary award.

Forty two-year-old Pierre, who lives in Ireland with a British passport, bagged the prize last night for her satire on American low culture inspired by the recent spate of high-school massacres.

In one of the shortest judging sessions in the prize's history, under one hour, four of the five judges gave unqualified backing to the novel.

"Everybody thought that it was the most imaginative, unusual, exciting and extraordinary book for a British person to have written. It is a coruscating black comedy," Prof Carety said.

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The prize's administrator, Martyn Goff, said the judges had voted him the winner in record time, with only one of the five voting for another book.

He dismissed the suggestion that the Booker's reputation would be tainted by an author with a shady past.

DBC Pierre, which stands for 'Dirty But Clean Peter' is the nom de Plume of Peter Finlay, who confessed last weekend to having betrayed friends in his former life as a drug addict and gambler.

He admitted that he had sold a flat in Spain belonging to a mentor, the 75-year-old American artist Robert Lenton, but had pocketed the 30,000 pounds proceeds to pay drug and gambling debts.

Pierre also owed creditors 'hundreds of thousands of dollars' for a failed attempt to make a film about Mexican gold.

Pierre had been an outsider for the prize but his confession dramatically raised his profile and the odds against him winning shortened so that by Tuesday afternoon he was the close second favourite.

He is the first author to win Booker with a debut novel since Arundhati Roy, the Indian novelist, in 1997.

The other short-listed books for this year's prize were: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, the former Booker winner; The Good Doctor by Damon Galgut; Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller, a columnist with The Daily Telegraph and Astonishing Splashes of Colour by Clare Morrall.

Pierre told last night's Booker ceremony at the British Museum that he had only been inspired to write as a way of repaying the money he owed.

"My youth was an incredibly deviating and mis-energetic affair. To be honest, if there was a single pressure that has brought me to writing, it's regrets. That's like rocket fuel. I've got regrets for the rest of my life.

"I was compelled to write or to take a length of rope to hang myself in the forest," he said. "I am not touching a penny of it (his winner's cheque). It isn't coming to me, but it's only about a third of what I owe in the world. I am going to pay some debts to see if I can sleep slightly better tonight."

His outburst was as surprising as his victory.  The favourite was the Bangladesh-born British writer Monica Ali, also for a debut novel, Brick Lane, one of the most widely talked about books of the summer.

Pierre, born in Australia and raised in Mexico, held a British passport. He has managed to get himself shot by a neighbour in Mexico City, work up debts of hundreds of thousands of dollars, cultivate drug and gambling addictions, and leave behind a trail of wronged women, despite having to have his face reconstructed by surgeons after a horrific car crash.

In between he has managed unsuccessful careers as a filmmaker, treasure hunter, smuggler and graphic artist.

But it was his rollicking debut, Vernon God Little, rather than his Rabelaisian personal life, which mesmerised the judges, Professor John Carey, their chairman, insisted.

Like Finlay the Texan teenager, who is the hero of the book, lied himself into a corner. Unlike Finlay, Vernon faced the death penalty, and not just the ire of his creditors and former girlfriends.

Pierre said writing Vernon God Little was an attempt to put his life back together and to earn money to pay Lenton.

"I am not proud of what I have done and all the good people who trusted me and were burned," he said.

He also said that, as soon as he was short-listed for the prize, he feared that his past would be exposed.

"I have lived in dread of this for 15 years," he said. "In a way, I am  relieved it is finally come out."

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