Journalist and novelist Will Self is favourite to win the Man Booker Prize tonight.
He is shortlisted for the first time for Umbrella, a novel with no chapters and few paragraph breaks, and which judges described as both "moving and draining".
"Those who stick with it will find it much less difficult than it first seems," they said of the book, which is set across an entire century.
Left to right: Tan Twan Eng, Deborah Levy, Hilary Mantel, Alison Moore, Will Self, Jeet Thayil,
His closest competition looks set to come from previous winner Hilary Mantel.
The 60-year-old won the £50,000 prize in 2009 for Wolf Hall, the first book in her fictional trilogy on Thomas Cromwell.
If she scoops the title again with her follow-up, Bring Up The Bodies, she will become the first British writer to win the Man Booker Prize for Fiction twice.
Judges said Mantel had shown "even greater mastery of method, powerful realism, and the separation of past and present and the vivid depiction of English character and landscape" in her latest work.
Also in the running for the prestigious prize at tonight's event, at Guildhall in central London, is Swimming Home by Deborah Levy, a novel which was originally rejected by traditional publishers.
Set on the French Riviera over a single week, it hit the shelves after being published by a small company which uses a subscription method to bring out many of its books.
Two of the books on the list are debut novels - 53-year-old Indian performance poet, songwriter and guitarist Jeet Thayil's Narcopolis and Manchester-born Alison Moore's The Lighthouse.
Narcopolis, which judges praised for its "perfume prose", is set in the Bombay of the 1970s.
The Lighthouse is the story of a middle-aged, recently separated man, who crosses the Channel by ferry after the failure of his marriage.
The sixth book is The Garden Of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng, about the survivor of a Second World War Japanese prison camp. It is one of three books on the shortlist from small, independent publishers.
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Last night the six authors posed for pictures at the Royal Festival Hall in south London for a preview event.
Bookmakers William Hill have made Self 2/1 favourite with Mantel 9/4.
Moore and Eng are both 4/1, with Levy at 9/1 and Thayil at 10/1.
Chair of the judging panel Sir Peter Stothard, editor of The Times Literary Supplement, described Mantel and Self as "two of the great established radicals of contemporary literature" but added any of the six shortlisted authors could win.
"This has been an exhilarating year for fiction. The strongest I would say for more than a decade," he said.
"We were considering... novels, not novelists, texts not reputations. We read and we reread. It was the power and depth of prose that settled most of the judges' debates."
The judging panel, which includes Dan Stevens who plays Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey, ploughed through a longlist of 145 titles.
A spokesman for Waterstones said: "The Man Booker is still the most commercially important prize in the UK, and whoever wins can look forward to rivalling 50 Shades of Grey and the new JK Rowling novel next week in the bestseller charts and in the weeks to come. Equally importantly, the title 'Man Booker winner' is one that will benefit the author for the rest of his or her career - it is a phrase that carries huge weight in the eyes of publishers, booksellers and, most importantly, readers."
Last year's winner, The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes, has sold more than 300,000 print editions in the UK.
In 2011 the judges, chaired by former MI5 chief Dame Stella Rimington, were accused by some of dumbing down the prize, and omitting big names.
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