After several years of scandals and wildcard picks, the Swedish Academy will on Thursday crown the 2020 Nobel Literature Prize laureate, with literary experts hedging their bets because of the unpredictability of the selectors.
Ahead of the announcement due at 1:00 pm (1100 GMT), betting sites like Ladbrokes and Betsson have French Guadeloupean author Maryse Conde, Canadian and Russian novelists Margaret Atwood and Lyudmila Ulitskaya, as well as Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, as the favourites.
Speculation in Stockholm's literary circles meanwhile covers a long list of names, including Caribbean-American author Jamaica Kincaid, Canadian poet Anne Carson, Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o, and Hungary's Peter Nadas and Laszlo Krasznahorkai.
Writer Dubravka Ugresic, born in what is now Croatia but who lives in The Netherlands, was also seen as a possible winner.
The Academy has a history of throwing curve balls with its picks -- as in 2016 when it honoured US rock legend Bob Dylan.
Last year's choice of Austrian novelist Peter Handke also unleashed a flood of criticism, leaving many wondering how it could award a writer known for supporting Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in the Balkan wars and playing down his army's atrocities.
That pick was made even more puzzling by the fact that the literary institution was expected to avoid ruffling any feathers as it recovered from a devastating, drawn-out scandal after the husband of one of its members was jailed for rape.
The scandal, which erupted in 2017, forced it to postpone the 2018 prize -- a first in 70 years.
- Dusted-off candidates? -
The Academy defended its choice of Handke as one based solely on literary merit.
The culture editor of Sweden's biggest daily Bjorn Wiman called the choice of Handke "terribly bad", adding: "If the Academy knows what is good for them, they'll choose Jamaica Kincaid" this year.
With themes like colonialism, racism and gender, "her stance on various moral and political issues are absolutely worth listening to today," he told AFP.
However, if last year's choice is anything to go by, the Academy may also "dust off some old candidate" from years ago, "the same way they did with Handke".
That could include such names as Peter Nadas of Hungary, Albania's Ismael Kadare and Romania's Mircea Cartarescu.
Some of the "usual suspects" for the prize are Joyce Carol Oates and Marilynne Robinson of the US, Israel's David Grossman and South Korean poet Ko Un.
Some critics noted that Ko Un seemed like the only potentially scandalous name, referring to allegations of sexual misconduct levelled at the poet in the midst of the #MeToo movement.
- Mysterious ways -
Other last-minute names making the rounds were poets Louise Gluck of the US and Pia Tafdrup of Denmark, Chinese author Yan Lianke and espionage author David Moore Cornwell -- better known by his pen name John le Carre -- but the Swedish Academy often seems to shun bestselling mainstream authors, opting to shine its spotlight on lesser-known names.
"If you're sitting on all this prize money to award, and you have all this attention that you can bestow, then of course you might think... that it's more fun to give it to someone who's not already in the limelight," Madelaine Levy, literature critic at Svenska Dagbladet, told AFP.
She also noted that predicting a winner is all the more difficult since "almost all countries have some unbelievably strong writers worthy of a Nobel prize.
"The Academy has surprised everyone many, many times. They work in mysterious ways," she concluded.
The Nobel Prize comes with a medal and a prize sum of 10 million Swedish kronor (about $1.1 million, 950,000 euros).
Normally, the winner receives the Nobel from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, but because of the pandemic that has been replaced by a televised ceremony showing the laureates receiving their awards in their home countries.
The unusual circumstances could be the perfect occasion to honour American novelist Thomas Pynchon, who famously shuns the limelight, Swedish Radio speculated.
"A cancelled award ceremony and a cancelled banquet. Well, there won't be a better time to give the award to this very reclusive author," the radio's literary critic Anna Tullberg said.