British author Howard Jacobson was named the surprise winner of this year's prestigious Booker Prize for literature for his comic novel about love, loss and Jewishness.
Jacobson's work "The Finkler Question" defied the odds Tuesday to pick up the award and 50,000 pounds (80,000 dollars, 55,000 euros) prize money for his tale of two old school friends and their teacher.
Almost as well known for his ability to narrowly miss out on major literary prizes as for his writing skills, Jacobson joked about the long wait he had faced for such recognition as he picked up the award.
"I'm speechless. Fortunately I prepared one earlier. It's dated 1983, that is how long the wait's been," the 68-year-old told the London ceremony.
He added: "It is beyond belief for me because I was so accustomed to being somebody that was, to begin with, not liked by the Booker Prize."
The decision by the five judges to award him the prize was not unanimous, with the final verdict three to two in his favour.
Chair of the judges, English poet Andrew Motion, said the work was "a completely worthy winner of this great prize."
"'The Finkler Question' is a marvellous book: very funny, of course, but also very clever, very sad and very subtle."
The story's main character is a former BBC radio producer, Julian Treslove, who despite not being Jewish develops a fascination with Jewishness. The tale explores this theme through his relationship with two Jewish friends.
The Independent said awarding the prize to Jacobson "broke the mould."
"It was predicted to be the most likely loser, not least because a comic novel has never satisfied the tastes of high-minded judges," said the paper.
Jacobson has been longlisted twice before for the prize, in 2006 for "Kalooki Nights" and in 2002 for "Who's Sorry Now", but had never before been shortlisted.
Jacobson himself however, begs to differ: "I'm not the English Philip Roth, I'm a Jewish Jane Austen," he told the Guardian newspaper in a recent interview.
One of the highest-profile awards in English language literature, the annual Booker Prize is awarded for the best work of fiction by an author from the Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland or Zimbabwe.
Contenders must have been published in the past year and write in English. The prize all but guarantees an upsurge in book sales.
Tom McCarthy's "C", an experimental novel about a young radio addict in the 20th century, had been the 8/15 favourtie to win, according to bookmaker William Hill.
Source: AFP Global Edition