As reported in this space last week, novelist Jonathan Raban (whose Waxwings hits stores next week) has promised to "eat a square of carpet" if Monica Ali does not win the Booker Prize. The Independent (London), the Daily Telegraph (London), and the Australian--among other newspapers--have all reported that Monica Ali is favored to win. Ladbrokes, the British company that places bets on these kinds of things, puts Ali's odds of winning at 2-1, ahead of every other author on the shortlist, including Margaret Atwood. The only person I've talked to who doesn't think Monica Ali will win the Booker Prize is Monica Ali.

Which explains why she isn't worried about the awards dinner at the British Museum on October 15. "It will be a fun evening because I won't have the burden of stress," Ali said last week in the Bookstore Bar & Cafe on First Avenue, before a reading at Elliott Bay. "I feel like I've already won something by being on the shortlist."

(The shortlist was announced last week and was, by all accounts, a surprise, because it excluded a number of heavyweights--like Martin Amis and J. M. Coetzee--and included three debut novels: Ali's Brick Lane, DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little, and Clare Morrall's Astonishing Splashes of Colour. Also on the shortlist are Damon Galgut's The Good Doctor, Zoë Heller's What Was She Thinking?, and Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake.)

"When I finished writing this I thought: How is this going to go down?" Ali said about Brick Lane. "There's nothing going on in it. No talking dogs. It's a family saga with an old-fashioned narrative.

"Many people are ready for a return to a good old narrative," she added, "as opposed to something experimental or high concept"--including the New York Times, which called it "deeply rewarding," and the Observer (London), which said Brick Lane demonstrated "a rare instance of hype being justified by substance."

At her reading, after a panegyric introduction by Elliott Bay's Rick Simonson (in which he mentioned, as everyone does, the likelihood that she will win the Booker Prize), Ali said, "I wouldn't like it all to go to my head. I like to remember all the people who haven't liked Brick Lane."

People magazine, for instance.

"The reviewer [for People magazine] came up with some suggestions: I could have lightened things up with some more plot and with some beautiful writing. I wish I had thought of those things," she said. "I know for next time."

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Next week, in our ongoing (if slightly eccentric) coverage of England's most coveted literary prize, Stranger critics review novels long-listed for this year's Booker Prize that didn't make the shortlist--in other words, books you'll probably never hear of again.

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