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Move over, world-class authors

The competition couldn't have been rougher for Nicola Barker, a relatively unknown British writer. Her novel "Wide Open" was up against works from Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison, National Book Award-winner Alice McDermott, and Pulitzer Prize-winners Philip Roth and Michael Cunningham.

Obviously, that didn't intimidate the selection committee of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the world's largest cash prize for a single work of fiction ($115,000). Tuesday, they chose Barker's novel from a list submitted by librarians in major cities around the world. The judging panel said, " 'Wide Open' possesses a manic energy and taut eloquence worthy of a large, serious, and global readership."

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Her surreal novel describes the lives of a collection of strange, desperate characters on the British coast.

Just how obscure was this dark horse? No major bookstore in Boston carried Barker's book. When we called the publisher, Ecco Press, they didn't know she had won.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society