She admitted, however, that she would rather people did not dwell on the former. Asked whether she minded her age being mentioned, Ozick said: “Yes, is the direct answer, yes. Because I think that writers are judged on their work and not on their age, and that seems to me a very simple axiom. I suppose if a writer publishes a novel at the age of 10 it is worth mentioning, but if one is mature it seems rather irrelevant.”
However, Ozick added: “I understand journalism, I do, and journalists latch on to things that seem remarkable. To me, it does not seem remarkable, although when I look at the number it seems dreadfully old. But I don’t relate to it.”
The six novels explore subjects as diverse as modern-day adultery, ancient Greek love and wartime atrocities in Romania. The £30,000 winner will be announced on 30 May at a ceremony at London’s Royal Festival Hall.
The novelist Joanna Trollope, chair of this year’s judges, said: “I think this is one of the strongest lists I’ve seen for a literary prize and I’m quite an old hand at them now. It is a list of international standing.”
Trollope highlighted “the diversity of voice, the diversity of subject matter, the strength and accessibility”. She added: “They are all so readable. I know Stella Rimington got shot down last year for using that word, but what is the point of a book if it isn’t?
“Anyone who reads any of them will be left with so much to think about afterwards. They can be read by academics, they can be read by people in local book clubs. There is so much meat in them.”
Ozick was installed as 2/1 favourite by the bookmaker William Hill. In her novel she loosely uses Henry James’s The Ambassadors as a platform from which to explore big themes such as anti-semitism and the post-war divergence in fortunes of Europe and America.
Patchett won the prize 10 years ago for Bel Canto and is shortlisted this year for State of Wonder, a gripping Amazonian adventure story about the search for a drug that could change women’s lives forever.
Another literary heavyweight on the list is Enright, who won the Man Booker prize in 2007 for The Gathering. She is shortlisted for The Forgotten Waltz, which explores adultery and the power of children in a family.
Enright said: “I am so proud to be on the shortlist for the Orange. It is the friendliest and most forward-looking of all the prizes, constantly bringing new names to our attention and casting older ones in a new light. It gives the bag a shake.”
Harding is nominated for her third novel, Painter of Silence, set in postwar Romania, telling the story of Iasi, an artistically gifted deaf and mute man who turns up near death’s door on the steps of a hospital.
Edugyan is shortlisted for Half Blood Blues, which also featured on last year’s Man Booker shortlist. It tells the story of black jazz musicians in Nazi-occupied Paris.
The sixth book on the list is Miller’s debut novel, The Song of Achilles, set in Greece in the age of heroes, telling the moving story of the love between Achilles and Patroclus.
Other judges on the panel were the writer Lisa Appignanesi, the broadcasters Victoria Derbyshire and Natasha Kaplinsky, and the writer and broadcaster Natalie Haynes.