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Writer John le Carré has been selected for the shortlist of one of the world’s most prestigious literary awards.

The only problem is, he doesn’t want it.

“I am enormously flattered to be named as a finalist of the 2011 Man Booker International Prize,” le Carré said in a statement on his agent’s website. “However I do not compete for literary prizes and have therefore asked for my name to be withdrawn.”

The judges of the prize, which honors lifetime literary achievement, immediately announced that they wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“John le Carré’s name will, of course, remain on the list,” said rare book dealer Rick Gekoski, the judging panel’s chairman, in his own statement. “We are disappointed that he wants to withdraw from further consideration because we are great admirers of his work.”

Such great admirers, in fact, that another of the panel’s three judges, critic and publisher Carmen Callil, penned a piece in today’s Guardian, writing that the author of such classics as The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy stands high at the very center of English literature: “His great predecessors are Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene. Like them, le Carré has recast the times he, and we, have lived through.”

Callil acknowledged that le Carré “does not permit his work to be submitted for prizes.” But she wrote: “Happily nothing is submitted for this prize: we can choose whom we like.”

All of this has, at least temporarily, overshadowed the other twelve shortlisted nominees, who include Philip Pulman and James Kelman from the UK and Philip Roth and Anne Tyler from the U.S.

At a press conference in Sydney, Australia, the prize’s third judge said he wasn’t even quite sure what le Carré’s withdrawal means. “Technically I don’t suppose he can withdraw the honor,” said South African novelist Justin Cartwright. “But I don’t think you could give him the prize if he didn’t want it.”

Callil, also at the press conference, felt differently.

“Well, I do,” she countered.

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By Paul Hechinger