Hilary Mantel has won the £50,000 Man Booker Prize for her novel Bring up the Bodies, the sequel to Wolf Hall, which won the prestigious prize in 2009. Mantel is the first woman and the first living British author to win the Man Booker literary prize twice, and the first author in Man Booker history to win the prize for a direct sequel. She is only the third double winner of the award, after JM Coetzee and Peter Carey.
“This double accolade is uniquely deserved,” said Sir Peter Stothard, chairman of the judges in his award speech at London’s Guildhall on Tuesday night. “This is a very remarkable piece of English prose that transcends the work already written by a great English prose writer.
“This is a bloody story about the death of Anne Boleyn, but Hilary Mantel is a writer who thinks through the blood. She uses her power of prose to create moral ambiguity and the real uncertainty of political life.” He added: “She has recast the most essential period of our modern English history; we have the greatest modern English prose writer reviving possibly one of the best known pieces of English history.
“It is well-trodden territory with an inevitable outcome, and yet she is able to bring it to life as though for the first time.”
The judges reached their decision on Tuesday night after, as Sir Peter puts it, a “lengthy and forensic examination”.
Bring up the Bodies is about Thomas Cromwell, an adviser to King Henry VIII, and charts the bloody downfall of Anne Boleyn. Here’s a flavour:
‘My boy Thomas, give him a dirty look and he’ll gouge your eye out. Trip him, and he’ll cut off your leg,’ says Walter Cromwell in the year 1500. ‘But if you don’t cut across him he’s a very gentleman. And he’ll stand anyone a drink.’
By 1535 Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmith’s son, is far from his humble origins. Chief Minister to Henry VIII, his fortunes have risen with those of Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife, for whose sake Henry has broken with Rome and created his own church. But Henry’s actions have forced England into dangerous isolation, and Anne has failed to do what she promised: bear a son to secure the Tudor line. When Henry visits Wolf Hall, Cromwell watches as Henry falls in love with the silent, plain Jane Seymour. The minister sees what is at stake: not just the king’s pleasure, but the safety of the nation. As he eases a way through the sexual politics of the court, its miasma of gossip, he must negotiate a ‘truth’ that will satisfy Henry and secure his own career. But neither minister nor king will emerge undamaged from the bloody theatre of Anne’s final days.
In Bring up the Bodies, sequel to the Man Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall, Mantel explores one of the most mystifying and frightening episodes in English history: the destruction of Anne Boleyn. The novel is described by Harper Collins as ‘a speaking picture, an audacious vision of Tudor England that sheds its light on the modern world.’
Bring up the Bodies is the second book in a trilogy, the third is to be called The Mirror and the Light, and will continue Cromwell’s story until his execution in 1540. When it is published, the question will surely be, will this book be shortlisted too? Mantel says, though, that she has “no expectations” of completing a hat-trick with the third novel. She said: “My publishers were always announcing my breakthrough book and it never really happened, it happened in terms of critical esteem, it didn’t happen in terms of sales or impact on the general public, my fortunes began to turn when I met Thomas Cromwell.”
Receiving her award, Mantel joked: “You wait 20 years for a Booker Prize and two come along at once.” Adding: “I know how privileged and lucky I am to be standing here tonight. I regard this as an act of faith and a vote of confidence.”
As well as the £50,000 cheque Hilary Mantel also receives £2,500 for being shortlisted, along with the other five novelists in the race who were:
Tan Twan Eng: The Garden of Evening Mist, Deborah Levy: Swimming Home, Alison Moore: The Lighthouse, Will Self: Umbrella and Jeet Thayil with Narcopolis
Winning the Man Booker has a great impact on sales – every winning book since 1996 has grossed more than £1m, indeed, Yan Martel’s Life of Pi, which won in 2002, made just under £10m.
According to the latest figures, Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies has already sold 108,342 copies, which is more than the other 11 Man Booker longlisted novels combined – the judges decision will be a popular one with readers.