How fitting that a writer best known (now) for historical fiction made history? My piece on Mantel’s double Booker in today’s DNA (I’m happy to report that the headline is, ahem, incorrect only in the website. The newspaper carried the sensible version). There’s nothing disappointing about Bring Up The Bodies winning because it is a brilliant book. Structure, pace, language, characterisation, tension, research — it has everything. The one twinge of disappointment for me came from the Booker judges choosing to pick an already famous and bestselling author, rather than someone lesser-known. I probably wouldn’t have felt this twinge if I didn’t love Tan Twan Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists as much as I did. But for all my fondness for it, I can’t deny that Bring Up The Bodies is tighter and better structured than The Garden of Evening Mists. So I guess the mightier book did win. Anyway, here’s my bit on this year’s Booker.
Double Booker for her Mantel
When Sir Peter Stothard, chairman of the judges, announced Hilary Mantel was this year’s Man Booker Prize winner, no one should have been surprised. Mantel has been the favourite ever since the Booker shortlist was released last month. In spite of this, it took a moment for the announcement to sink in because Mantel hadn’t just proved the bookies right; she’d made history.
After Peter Carey and JM Coetzee, Mantel is the third person to have won two Booker prizes. She is the first woman and the first Briton to win the double. She won her first Booker prize in 2009, for her twelfth book, Wolf Hall, which was the first instalment of a trilogy on the Tudor statesman, Thomas Cromwell. Bring Up The Bodies is the second part and Tuesday night’s win makes this the first sequel to win the prize. Stothard described Mantel as “the greatest English prose writer” of our times. Mantel’s reacted to the win with a quip: “You wait 20 years for a Booker Prize and two come along at once.”
This year’s Booker Prize shortlist was praised for the emphasis placed on craft, which was a stark contrast to last year’s selection that selected books for their “readability”. In the prelude to the announcement, Stothard said that the original idea behind the Booker was not to create bestsellers but to applaud high quality storytelling in prose. His words may have sparked a flame of hope in the hearts of the independent publishers of shortlisted novels — The Lighthouse and Swimming Home — but ultimately, the panel of judges ended up selecting the book that, in terms of sales figures, has proven to be the most readable. As of now, Bring Up The Bodies has sold 1,08,342 copies in UK, which is more than what the other 11 novels longlisted for this year’s prize have sold altogether. The success of Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies must be particularly satisfying for Mantel because initially, she had trouble finding publishers for Tudor-era trilogy. Usually, fiction set in that era chooses well-known characters like Henry VIII as heroes, but Mantel picked Thomas Cromwell, a shadowy historical figure.
Wolf Hall introduced readers to Cromwell and in Bring Up The Bodies, he’s the man who brings Anne Boleyn down. The last of the trilogy is titled Mirror And Light and will continue Cromwell’s story till his execution in 1540. Upon receiving the Booker Prize, Mantel said, “I assure you I have no expectations that I will be standing here again. But I regard this as an act of faith and vote of confidence.” What’s the bet that once Mirror and Light comes out, we’ll all be hoping for a hat trick?