“Sequels don’t win prizes,” she told me the last time we met, “or rather, when they do, it’s for a body of work, and goes to the last in the trilogy – as happened with Pat Barker [who won in 1995 with The Ghost Road, the final part of her ‘Regeneration’ trilogy].”
Being the last in a trilogy has not, however, been enough to give John Banville’s Ancient Light a longlisting for the prize, which is a shame, as it is more than a match for most of those that made the cut. Surely the judges can’t still resent his comment, on being awarded the prize in 2005, that “it’s about time a work of art won”?
The Man Booker judges are, however, right not to overlook Mantel, as Bring Up the Bodies is an even better novel than Wolf Hall. And who would bet against them also honouring The Mirror and the Light, the last in the trilogy she will have spent a decade writing?
Literary prizes, as Michael Cunningham wrote recently in the New Yorker, are an attempt to “second-guess the future”. In his case, that attempt fell flat: all three of the novels he and his two fellow-panellists picked out of the 300 submitted for this year’s Pulitzer Prize for fiction were rejected by the Pulitzer board, who decided not to award a prize for fiction this year. The three novels Cunningham and his colleagues chose were David Foster Wallaces’s unfinished novel The Pale King, Karen Russell’s debut novel Swamplandia! and Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, a novella set in the American West at the turn of the last century. It is published by Granta at the start of next month, and is so taut and solidly crafted that if only Americans were eligible for the Man Booker, it would be hard to beat.
Meanwhile, publishers are still churning out 50 shades of rubbish. Penguin, for example, is ecstatic about sales of Sylvia Day’s Bared to You (“Gideon came into my life like lightning in darkness – beautiful and brilliant, jagged and white hot”) while Sophie Morgan’s The Diary of a Submissive (out on 30 August) features James, “a real-life Christian Grey’. Women, please – enough already!