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Julian Barnes finally picked up the Man Booker Prize at the fourth attempt for his novel The Sense of an Ending.

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Sanapshot: Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes, 65, was born in Leicester and grew up in the London suburbs which inspired his first novel, Metroland, for which he won the Somerset Maugham Award, was made into a film in 1997.

He studied at Oxford and first as a lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary supplement before becoming a literary journalist for magazines and newspapers including the New Statesman, the Observer and the New Yorker.

His output includes 10 novels, three collections of short stories, journalism and crime novels featuring a bi-sexual private eye called Duffy which he writes under the pseudonym Dan Kavanagh.

His latest work is dedicated to his wife, the literary agent Pat Kavanagh, who died in 2008.

He was presented with the £50,000 prize at a ceremony at Guildhall in London and thanked his publishers “for their wisdom and the sponsors for their cheque”.

Speaking at a press conference after the ceremony, he refused to be drawn on the merits of this book compared to his three other shortlisted titles that failed to win.

He said his favourite work was “the one I’m about to write or the one I’ve just written”.

Barnes joked he was “relieved” to have won and avoid the fate of novelist Beryl Bainbridge who was awarded a posthumous Booker after failing to pick up the prize in her lifetime.

"[the novel] spoke to humankind in the 21st century"

Dame Stella Rimington

He said: “I didn’t want to go to my grave and get a Beryl.”

Dame Stella Rimington, who chaired the judging panel, said the slim 150-page novel “spoke to humankind in the 21st century”.

The book is the story of a middle-aged man, Tony Webster, struggling to come to terms with his life as his past begins to unravel when he learns of the existence of a diary kept by an old schoolfriend.

Dame Stella said the fact that Barnes has been shortlisted for the prize three times previously without winning “didn’t figure” in the judges decision.

She said: “It is a book about somebody who appears to be at first blush a rather boring bloke and you think ‘Why are we reading about a very boring bloke?’ but gradually as the book goes on you realise that this boring bloke who has presented himself in that way doesn’t actually know very much about himself and gradually he’s revealed to be far from that but to be somebody quite different and I think one of the things the book does is talk about the humankind.”

She said the book stoo up to re-reading and praised Barnes’ style, adding: “We thought it was a beautifully written book, we thought it was a book that spoke to the humankind in the 21st century.”

Jon Howells from booksellers Waterstone’s said: “Julian Barnes is a worthy winner - this is not right writer, wrong book syndrome, The Sense of an Ending is a brilliant novel, one that turns in the reader’s head long after finishing.”

The five judges took just over 30 minutes to come to their decision and Dame Stella said it was eventually unanimous and “there was no blood on the carpet”.

She said: “We had a shortlist of six very different books and people obviously had different views but we ended up in the same place.”

Dame Stella, a former Director of MI5, laughed off the controversy surrounding the shortlist which has been criticised in some quarters for omitting big names including Alan Hollinghurst and Graham Swift and for putting readability before quality.

She said: “I have enjoyed the process. I’ve had a long life in varied, different careers and I’ve been through many crises of one kind or another in which this one pales.”

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