THE Man Booker Prize's history of producing unexpected results continued last night when one of the two outsiders on a shortlist of relative unknowns won the fiction award.

Irish writer Anne Enright, who celebrated her 45th birthday just five days earlier, took the prestigious Booker Prize with only her fourth novel, The Gathering, and with it the £50,000 prize at a ceremony in the Guildhall in London.

Enright, who looked stunned as her name was read out, dedicated her win to her partner Martin Murphy, and to their two children, aged four and seven, who were watching on TV at home in Dublin.

"I'd like to thank the love of my life, Martin Murphy, the two fantastic children he gave me - who can now go to bed - my family for everything and my siblings for never faltering," she said.

Afterwards, Enright joked that the £50,000 prize money would come in handy. "I bought a dress yesterday and I'm really glad I can afford it today," she said.

Of the six nominees, Ian McEwan with his novella On Chesil Beach, which has outsold all the other shortlisted books put together and Lloyd Jones's Mister Pip were the most hotly tipped to take the Booker.

Chairman of the judging panel, Howard Davies, said: "Anne Enright has written a powerful, uncomfortable and, at times, angry book. The Gathering is an unflinching look at a grieving family in tough and striking language.

"We think she is an impressive novelist, we expect to hear a lot more from her."

The Gathering is a multi-generational epic tracing sexual hurt and redemption through three generations of a Dublin family, the Hegartys, from 1925 to the late 1990s.

Previously Enright won the Rooney Prize for The Portable Virgin collection of short stories and her second novel What Are You Like? published seven years ago was shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel Award and won the Encore Award.

Born in Dublin on October 11, 1962, Enright read philosophy at Trinity College, studying psychoanalysis as part of her degree course in English and Philosophy.

After ultimately graduating with an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, she joined the Irish TV station RTE in her mid-twenties, working as a producer on Nighthawks, a comparatively anarchic late-night chat show set in a fake pub.

The other authors nominated were Nicola Barker for Darkmans and Mohsin Hamid for The Reluctant Fundamentalist.