Second Booker for 'heroine of British literature' Hilary Mantel
And she could win the prize again, even if her trilogy is proving hard going for some readers
YOU WAIT 20 years for a Man Booker Prize and two come along at once, quipped Hilary Mantel last night as she became the first British author, and first woman, to win the prestigious literary award for a second time.
She beat five other shortlisted titles, including the bookies' favourite Umbrella by Will Self.
The prize was awarded for Bring up the Bodies, a historical novel about the downfall of Anne Boleyn as seen through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to Henry VIII.
The book is the second in a planned trilogy by Mantel. The first, Wolf Hall, won the Booker in 2009 but only after it had been turned down by a string of publishers, who said her work was too weighty for readers who preferred "chick lit in long frocks".
The judges said Bring up the Bodies "utterly surpassed" Wolf Hall. Former Times editor Sir Peter Stothard, chairman of the judges, hailed Mantel as "the greatest English prose writer" of modern times and praised her ability to re-cast one of the most familiar episodes in British history.
"This is a bloody story of the death of Anne Boleyn but Hilary Mantel is a writer who thinks through the blood," he said. "It is a well-trodden story and yet she has the ability to bring it to life as though for the first time."
The judges were "spot on" writes Erica Wagner in The Times today. "Wolf Hall was a tour de force, but its sequel is leaner, more brilliant (who would have thought it possible?), more shocking than its predecessor."
Wagner says she "wouldn't be in the least surprised" if Mantel took home a third Booker prize for the next novel in the trilogy, currently being written. "She is a heroine of British literature, her steady gathering of literary power a lesson to writers and readers both," says Wagner. "How lucky we are to have her in our midst."
The Spectator's David Blackburn also believes it was the "right" choice, describing Bring up the Bodies as the "most accomplished book on the list".
He says it was "challenging but fundamentally readable thanks to the execution and, it must be said, the drama of the history of that period, which Mantel handles with the insight of a historian, though thankfully not a historian's total fidelity."
At a Soho party to celebrate Mantel's victory last night, there no discussion of the detractors who find Mantel's prose hard going.
As one reader on The Daily Telegraph website complains, it took "an awfully long time to plough through" Bringing up the Bodies. "There was a lack of pace, and, I thought, a lot of speculative history padding a story that could have been told more eloquently."