A Richard and Judy bestseller will battle it out against four books by British authors and a first novel from Australia for the Orange Prize for Fiction.
The History of Love by the American author Nicole Krauss has already proved a popular as well as a critical success, with extra help from its selection for the Channel 4 duo's book club.
Also among the six books shortlisted for the 2006 award for women's fiction yesterday were the two Smiths - Ali and Zadie - with The Accidental and On Beauty, respectively.
They are joined on the shortlist by two more formidable British writers - Sarah Waters with The Night Watch and Hilary Mantel, whose Beyond Black, was long-listed for the Booker last year alongside Smiths A and Z - but unlike them did not progress to the final vote.
The last contender is a first novel, Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany, who was inspired to write by her experiences as one of Australia's few female park rangers.
The broadcaster Martha Kearney, who chairs the judging panel, said: "We have been very lucky as some of the country's finest writers have excellent books out this year, and that is reflected in our choice. But we were guided by the quality of the books rather than the fact they were big names.
"I don't think there was anybody left feeling these were the wrong choices. But there were some great books bubbling under, such as Disobedience [by Naomi Alderman] and Prep [by Curtis Sittenfeld] that I hope lots of people will still find from the long list."
The range of subjects and characters was striking, she added. "There can be a certain view of 'women's writing' but the central characters in these six books couldn't be more varied."
Ali Smith, Zadie Smith and Sarah Waters have been all shortlisted for the Orange Prize before. Kate Mosse, the prize's cofounder, said the influence they had had on British writing in the past 10 years was impressive. "Look at how much they have all achieved with relatively small bodies of work. You can't remember a time now when Zadie and Ali and Sarah weren't very important writers," she said.
Like Kearney, Mosse was pleased that at least one first novel had reached the finals, maintaining the prize's tradition of digging out works which might otherwise be overlooked. But she said it was also important not to ignore "heavyweights" simply because they had already been spotted by other prizes. "There is a great pressure when books …