STOCKHOLM, Oct 6, 2011 (AFP) - Feverish speculation marked the hours before Thursday's Nobel Literature Prize announcement, with some suggesting the Arab Spring uprising could inspire an award to Syrian poet Adonis -- and one betting site tipping Bob Dylan as the favourite.
Sweden's leading newspaper even let a cat predict this year's laureate.
The Swedish Academy that awards the prize never reveals the names of the nominees, leaving the door wide open for frenzied guessing right up to the announcement, due at 1:00 pm (1100 GMT).
The buzz in literary circles in recent weeks has been that the situation in the Middle East could influence the prize committee to give the prestigious award to an Arab-language writer for only the second time in history.
"It's time for a poet and the Mideast. So who would be better than Adonis?," said Nicklas Bjoerkholm, manager of one of Stockholm's biggest bookstores, Hedengrens.
If he wins, he will be only the second Arab-language writer to receive the literary world's top prize, after Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz won in 1988.
There has also been some speculation that long-tipped Israeli author Amos Oz could be well-placed in a year with so much focus on the Middle East.
In June, Adonis, whose real name is Ali Ahmed Said and who lives in France, won the Goethe Prize.
The same month, he published an open letter to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a Lebanese newspaper urging him to end the bloody repression.
Online betting sites have also long handed Adonis the best odds.
But on Thursday Japanese writer Haruki Murakami sailed up to top Unibet's list, followed by Adonis, Korean American novelist Chang-Rae Lee, and Swedish poet Tomas Transtroemer.
Also making a strong run on the home straight is Bob Dylan.
The Ladbrokes betting site created a stir when the legendary singer-songwriter when it catapulted him into the top slot on Wednesday, ahead of Murakami.
Behind them were Algerian novelist and poet Assia Djebar, Adonis, Hungarian writer Peter Nadas and Transtroemer.
Ladbrokes reported that 80 percent of the bets taken over a 12-hour period went on Dylan, causing his odds to tumble from 100-1 to 5-1 ahead of Thursday's announcement.
"We have seen a lot of bets from Sweden, from people we believe to be quite well-informed," Alex Donohue of Ladbrokes said.
"Everything now points to Dylan taking the prize. At first we had him down as a rank outsider but the committee have been known to spring a shock and punters the world over feel Dylan will be the beneficiary."
Dylan has been mentioned for several years as a possible laureate, but always figuring far down the list.
He has been spurned by observers for the same reason widely-read authors such as US novelists Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates and Cormac McCarthy -- who always figure among the favourites -- are considered unlikely winners: they are too popular.
"The whole idea of the prize is not to be mainstream," Stephen Farran-Lee, senior editor at Swedish publishing house Bonniers, told AFP.
The prize that last year went to Spanish-Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa has also been tipped to go to Kenya's Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Korean poet Ko Un or Somalia's Nuruddin Farah.
US author Thomas Pynchon, Canadian short story writer Alice Munro, India's Vijaydan Detha and Australia's Les Murray also figure among the favourites.
Illustrating just how difficult it is to correctly predict the winner, Swedish paper of reference Dagens Nyheter in Thursday's edition let a cat pick the laureate.
It placed bowls of kitty food in front of the cat, each bowl bearing the name of an author, including those of Djebar, Murray, Munro, Transtroemer, and Claudio Magris.
It chose Alice Munro.
The Literature Prize is the fourth and one of the most watched announcements this Nobel season, following the prizes for medicine, physics and chemistry earlier this week.
Next in line is the other big crowd-pleaser, the Peace Prize, which will be announced on Friday. The Economics Prize will wrap up the Nobel season next Monday.
This year's laureates will receive 10 million Swedish kronor ($1.48 million, 1.08 million euros) which can be split between up to three winners per prize.