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John Le Carre stirs controversy trying to withdraw from prize consideration

March 30, 2011 |  1:33 pm

Johnlecarre_2008 Who would have thought that removing your name from contention for a highly competitive prize worth nearly $100,000 would be a problem? But when your name is John le Carré, bowing out graciously apparently isn't an option.

The prize is the Man Booker International, which is awarded every other year to an author from any nation for his or her body of work that's either been published in English or widely translated. Like the Nobel, it serves as a kind of lifetime achievement award, and its prize money -- more than $96,000 -- is certainly a nice bonus. It announced 13 finalists Tuesday, including Americans Philip Roth, Anne Tyler and Marilynne Robinson -- and Le Carré.

Apparently, Le Carré, who's been a regular on bestseller lists -- including ours -- since the appearance there of his 1964 thriller "The Spy Who Came In From the Cold," says he's all right, thanks. "I am enormously flattered to be named as a finalist of 2011 Man Booker International Prize," he said in a statement issued through his literary agent. "However I do not compete for literary prizes and have therefore asked for my name to be withdrawn."

But dropping out isn't so easy. "John le Carré's name will, of course, remain on the list," the Man Booker International's judges chair, Rick Gekoski, said in a statement. "We are disappointed that he wants to withdraw from further consideration because we are great admirers of his work."

That work continues to impress. Tim Rutten called Le Carré "our greatest living master of espionage fiction" when he reviewed "Our Kind of Traitor," which came out in October 2010. It was Le Carré's 22nd novel; several of his books, including "The Spy Who Came In From the Cold," "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," "The Constant Gardner" and "The Tailor of Panama" have been made into films.

The Man Booker International Prize will be awarded to someone -- probably, after all this, not Le Carré -- at the Sydney Writers' Festival in Australia on May 18 and celebrated in London on June 28.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: John Le Carré in 2008. Credit: Cristian Barnett / Hodder & Stoughton

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