Gay British author Alan Hollinghurst (pictured) has won the world’s most prestigious literary award, the Man Booker Prize, for his gay novel The Line Of Beauty.

It is the first time a gay-themed book has won the competition in its 36-year history, organisers confirmed.

I know it is the decision for which I shall be grateful for the rest of my life, 50-year-old Hollinghurst said after his win, Reuters reported. It was the second time he had been short-listed for the competition. I feel very exhilarated and hardly know where I am.

The Line Of Beauty tells the story of young Nick Guest, a gay Oxford University graduate living in the London house of a high-flying conservative parliamentarian at the height of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s reign in the 1980s. Guest has a passionate affair with a black council worker before falling in love with a cocaine-addicted millionaire.

In the book’s most memorable scene the hero dances with Thatcher at a party while he is high on drugs.

Chairman of the Booker judges, Britain’s former Culture minister Chris Smith, said deciding on a winner was incredibly difficult and close.

Smith, who was also Britain’s first openly gay cabinet minister, said the winning novel is exciting, brilliantly written and gets under the skin of the Thatcherite 80s.

The search for love, sex and beauty is rarely this exquisitely done, Smith said.

The favourite to win the £50,000 ($A124,564) prize was David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, while Colm Toibin’s The Master was also a hot contender. Sources close to the jury, which deliberated over the decision for two hours and 15 minutes, said in the end it was between the three books, The Independent reported.

However they reached [the decision] I can’t imagine, Hollinghurst said. It’s very amazing to me that the long, solitary process of writing a novel should lead to a moment like this.

The Booker rewards the best novel of the past 12 months by a British, Irish or Commonwealth writer. Past winners include Salman Rushdie and Nobel literature prize-winner J.M. Coetzee, and it can lead to lucrative film and television contracts as well as instant literary stardom.

The last two winners before Hollinghurst were Canadian Yann Martel’s Life Of Pi and Australian D.B.C. Pierre’s Vernon God Little.

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