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Nobel prize for literature 2011: Europe’s top five

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Don’t be surprised to find Europe’s bars full of anxious scribblers each Wednesday evening this month: the 2011 winner of the Nobel literature prize is to be announced on ‘a Thursday in October’. So who will win the world’s most prestigious literary prize this time round? Will black horse Bob Dylan surprise the bookies, who have Haruki Murakami and Syrian poet Adonis down as favourites? surveys the competition by ranking

1/ Tomas Transtromer, Sweden

Known in Sweden as the 'buzzard poet', Tomas Transtromer’s haunting poetry offers a spiritual gaze at the world from above, while focussing in on the smallest details of the natural world. Tipped to win the prize in 2010, the 81-year-old is a champion of less is more, publishing a collection of mainly haiku-type poems in his 2004 book The Great Enigma. Various Swedish composers wrote left-hand piano pieces especially for Transtromer after he suffered from a stroke in 1990

2/ Mircea Cărtărescu, Romania

Sticklers to realism, beware: this Bucharest-based writer once gave the communist prefab block an oval window. Cartarescu’s trilogy Orbitor captures socialist Bucharest at the moment of its downfall, but with a mystical twist. Cartarescu would be the second Romanian writer in three years to win the prize, after Herta Muller in 2009 (Image: (cc) Bernhard Ellefsen/ Flickr)

Read the interview 'Mircea Cartarescu on men ‘who have something feminine about them' on

3/ Peter Nadas, Hungary

Don’t pick up Peter Nadas’ famous A Book Of Memories (1998) if you’re looking for a spot of light reading: the book took the now 68-year-old writer 11 years to write and earned him comparisons with Proust. The Budapest-born writer quit his early job as a photojournalist when he grew sick of snapping smiling workers for government propaganda: is his complex and intricate prose a continued backlash against this over-simplification?

4/ John Banville, Ireland

The emerald isle’s latest offering is a true European: often compared to Russian writer Nabokov for his inventiveness, he claims to have been wrestling with Prague-based Franz Kafka ever since he was a boy. The 65-year-old dark humour specialist escapes into crime fiction for light relief under the pseudonym Benjamin Black

5/ Ian McEwan, UK

Made famous by the 2007 film of his book Atonement, Ian McEwan seems too well-known to win the often obscure Swedish prize. And if the Oxford-based writer were to receive that long-awaited phone call from Stockholm he’d almost certainly be the first nobel-laureate to have been nominated for the London Literary Review’s ‘bad sex award’. Then again, might McEwan’s tackling of climate change in his 2010 novel Solar be enough to impress the jury?