HER books bring history to more vivid life than many readers might have thought possible, but tonight Hilary Mantel made literary history in her own right by winning the Man Booker prize for a second time.
Until today, no British writer – and no woman – had won the country’s most prestigious award twice. Neither had it been won by a sequel.
Mantel’s winning novel, Bring Up the Bodies – a 7/4 favourite according to closing odds from William Hill – takes the story of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s right-hand man, further on from where she left it in Wolf Hall, which won the Man Booker in 2009.
“This double accolade is uniquely deserved,” chair of the judges Sir Peter Stothard said. “Hilary Mantel has rewritten the rules for historical fiction. And in Bring Up the Bodies our greatest modern writer retells the origins of modern England.
“The novel reflects the moral ambiguity and real uncertainty in political life then. She brings history and story to life as though for the first time.”
Unusually, he revealed, the judges came to their decision without taking a single vote at any time during their discussions. They also sidelined the question of whether or not a sequel should win by dealing with Bring Up the Bodies entirely on its own merits and not mentioning Wolf Hall at any stage.
Mantel’s historic win will be hugely popular with readers. Already Wolf Hall has sold 631,000 in Britain alone and Bring Up the Bodies – which tells the story of Cromwell’s machinations to bring about the downfall of Anne Boleyn – has sold 105,000 in hardback.
If Wolf Hall was about Cromwell’s rise to power and the religious revolution that turned England inside out, Bring Up the Bodies is primarily about revenge.
While the first novel swept across the decades, showing Cromwell’s rise from the son of an obscure Blackheath, London, blacksmith to the second most powerful man in England, in Bring Up the Bodies the drama is more intensely focussed – as with, essentially, the Godfather Part I and Part II.
Mantel’s novels are not about sweetness and light, and the Cromwell she brings back to life in these books is a dark, dangerous man, never more so than when plotting against the enemies of his mentor, Cardinal Wolsey. The scenes in which he interrogates them are masterfully written.
Yet Bring Up the Bodies has far more to it than a gripping plot. This is history, so we should all know what happens next.
But Mantel takes us there in a way that has the immediacy of our present, in language that hints at the past without stifling her readers with 16th-century diction, and in a way that shows how completely she has got behind Cromwell’s eyes.
Also shortlisted were Will Self, the bookmakers’ favourite, Jeet Thayil, Tan Twan Eng, Alison Moore and Deborah Levy.
‘Prick your fingers and use the blood for ink’
A FEW months before she won the Man Booker prize for the second time, Hilary Mantel was interviewed by The Scotsman. You can read the interview in full here.