Smith, with her first novel in seven years, NW, out in September, was widely expected to make the Booker longlist, as were a host of former winners including John Banville, Pat Barker and Howard Jacobson. Instead, four innovative debut writers were chosen by the judges: Sam Thompson for his first novel Communion Town, the story of a city, Rachel Joyce for The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, in which a man leaves home after setting out to post a letter, Jeet Thayil for his tale of opium addiction in Mumbai, Narcopolis, and Alison Moore for The Lighthouse, which sees a man set out to find himself on a German walking holiday.
Twenty-seven-year-old author Ned Beauman also made the cut, for his second novel The Teleportation Accident, a slice of historical noir set in 1930s Germany.
"Who published a book, and indeed even the author, is of very little concern to Man Booker judges. We were considering novels not novelists, texts not reputations," said chair of judges Peter Stothard, editor of the Times Literary Supplement.
Heading the list of big names up for the prestigious £50,000 award this year was Hilary Mantel, chosen for her follow-up to the Booker-winning Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, a continuation of her life of Thomas Cromwell. She was immediately installed as favourite to take the prize by bookies, with Will Self's Umbrella, in which a maverick psychiatrist attempts to wake victims of the encephalitis lethargica sleeping sickness epidemic at the end of the first world war, coming in second. Bookseller Jonathan Ruppin at Foyles tipped Self as winner, describing the longlist as "one of the most delightful and unexpected in years".
Stothard said that the key criteria for this year's judges was that "a text has to reveal more, the more often you read it". "We were looking for books that you can make a sustained critical argument about, and when you read them again, you can make a different critical argument – not for books you can just say 'wow, I enjoyed it', or 'wow, that was terrible'." he said.
"Some novels by well-known authors passed the Man Booker test as to whether or not they repay rereading – there are a few well-established names there, Frayn, Barker, Mantel. But there are also books by very fine writers who didn't pass that test, or who came up shorter than those who did."
The critically acclaimed Nicola Barker was longlisted for The Yips, the stories of the strange denizens of the bar of "a clean but generic hotel" in Luton, while Michael Frayn's Skios, an intricate farce set around a conference on a Greek island, and André Brink's Philida, which tells of the journey of a slave in 1832 Cape Town, were also chosen by judges.
Making their selection of 12 titles from 145 novels in total, over three and a half hours of discussion, judges completed their longlist with Tan Twan Eng's The Garden of Evening Mists, set in Malaya in 1949, and Deborah Levy's Swimming Home, which sees a group of tourists on the French Riviera come apart over the course of a week. Three of the longlisted titles are published by tiny independent presses: Salt, which publishes Moore, And Other Stories, which publishes Levy, and Myrmidon Books, which publishes Eng.
"If it's disappointing that novels by famous writers aren't there, then so be it. That's the difference between Man Booker judges and buyers at Waterstones. We're not looking for books that you can pick up in a shop and say 'I must have that'. We're looking for books that are good value for money, that you don't leave on a beach, that you read again and again,' said Stothard. "I love the idea of people taking the longlist to read on the beach, but these are books I want people to bring back."
Stothard is joined on the judging panel by Liverpool University vice chancellor Dinah Birch, former Oxford academic and fiction reviewer Bharat Tandon, author Amanda Foreman and actor and English literature graduate Dan Stevens. Organisers went for a literary judging lineup, following the furore over last year's focus on "readability" when former MI5 director Stella Rimington, chairing the panel, said "we want people to buy these books and read them, not buy them and admire them", and her fellow judge Chris Mullin said the books "had to zip
along". Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending was eventually named winner of the 2011 Man Booker prize.
"There are many virtues of a fine novel, and many tools in the novelist's tool box, of which moving quickly along is one, but only one," said Stothard.
The shortlist for this year's award will be announced on 11 September, with the winner to be revealed on 16 October.