Irish author John Banville's (search) novel, "The Sea," which follows a man who returns to an Irish seaside town to confront traumatic memories, beat favorites to win Britain's top literary honor, the Man Booker Prize (search).

Banville's offering trumped Julian Barnes (search), former winner Kazuo Ishiguro and Zadie Smith (search) to take the $88,000 prize at an awards ceremony Monday night in London.

Banville, who was considered an outsider to claim the prestigious award, triumphed after a debate among judges, who had been torn between his work and Ishiguro's novel, "Never Let Me Go."

Chair of judges John Sutherland, who cast the deciding vote, said it was an extremely difficult decision.

"In an extraordinarily closely contested last round, in which the judges felt the level of the shortlisted novels was as high as it can ever have been, they have agreed to award the Man Booker Prize to John Banville's 'The Sea,' a masterly study of grief, memory and love collected," Sutherland said.

"These are six extremely different novels, all of them good in a very different way."

Banville previously made the Booker shortlist in 1989 with his novel, "Book of Evidence"; he lost out to Ishiguro's "The Remains of The Day."

"The Sea" — Banville's 14th novel — is narrated by Max Morden, a middle-aged arts historian, who, mourning the death of his wife, returns to the Irish seaside town where he spent a summer childhood. It is there that he confronts a traumatic event that has haunted him since childhood.

Barnes had been considered the favorite for the prize for his book, "Arthur and George," a historical novel based on a piece of real-life detective work by Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

"Never Let Me Go," a novel about childhood by Ishiguro also was considered a strong contender, as was "On Beauty," the third novel by 29-year-old Smith, who has twice been on the long list for the prize.

"The Accidental" by Ali Smith and "A Long, Long Way" by Sebastian Barry rounded out the shortlist.

The field for this year's Man Booker was considered one of the strongest in recent years. Big names from the 17-book long list who failed to make the cut include previous winners Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan.

The prize, which is open to writers from Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth of former British colonies, was founded in 1969 and long known as the Booker Prize. The award was renamed when the financial services conglomerate Man Group PLC began sponsoring it three years ago.