Man Booker winner 2012: Hilary Mantel

So who saw that coming? Hilary Mantel won again! She is now the third author to have won the Booker twice – the other two are J.M. Coetzee and Peter Carey. So three authors have won the Booker prize twice and that’s pretty impressive. However, Hilary Mantel is the first to have won for the two first books in a trilogy. She’s the first to have won for a sequel. She’s the first woman to have won the award twice. She’s even the first British writer to have won the award twice! I can’t believe what pressure that much put on her when she sits down to write the third one!


Anyway, Hilary Mantel has now won for both Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, the first two books in her trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. Wolf Hall is about Thomas Cromwell’s rise to fame and succeeding in getting Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn married. In Bring up the Bodies, Anne has overstayed her welcome and now Thomas Cromwell has to orchestrate her fall from grace.

It’s interesting to hear that Man Booker judge Amanda Foreman says that until the very last day, the judges hadn’t yet decided on who was going to win. She says the focus was on the novels, not the novelist. All in all, there was 145 entries – 30 of these were of former winners and finalists. Apparently, if you have won the Booker or have been on the shortlist, your next books also gets a chance to win it. The rest of the entries had to be nominated by their publishers.

I think this way of deciding who’s in the competition, rather interesting. If you are on the shortlist, you get another go – if not, it’s the publisher that nominate you. Not book stores, sales numbers or the public. But out of these 145 books, the judges’ task is to find the best book. And according to the judges, that book is Bring up the Bodies:

It was getting towards 3pm when Stothard held up his hand and declared it was apparent that Hilary Mantel was the winner. It was not that we were tired of deliberating, or that there was nothing more to be said about the books. But the strain of our discussions had become clear. Mantel had achieved an insurmountable measure of excellence that we all recognised and applauded. Only later did we take a step back to consider her great achievement as the first woman and first Briton to win the Man Booker twice. For us, our satisfaction is the knowledge that this feat was never a consideration.

Source:  Amanda Foreman: We were choosing the best novel of the year for the Telegraph

The big question now of course is: Will Hilary Mantel win again in 2015 for The Mirror and the Light, the third book in the trilogy?

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Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall (Review)

Sometimes, when you read a novel, you become acutely aware of huge gaps in your knowledge. Off the top of my head, I can easily remember a few times. Salman Rushdie The Satanic Verses is definitely one where I really felt I needed something to even get the novel at all. Tolstoy’s War and Peace also made me wish I had used some time studying Napoleon, his war on Russia and more. I still got and loved that one though but my reading experience would have been enhanced by a deeper knowledge of this period in history. The same with this novel. This is an amazing novel. There’s no doubt about it. But I didn’t get as much from it as I had hoped. I know something of English history, I know something about Henry VIII and Cromwell and all the wives because this period has always fascinated me. But I don’t know a lot. In fact, I didn’t know there was both an Oliver Cromwell and a Thomas Cromwell. Hilary Mantel knows. She knows this and lots lots more. She spent years researching this and she knows it all. And she doesn’t talk down to anybody. She expects something from her reader. Sadly, I can’t quite live up to this.
This is the story of Thomas Cromwell and his rise to fame in Henry VII’s court. It details his time with Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (whom I had never heard of before) and how he managed to not be drawn down with the Cardinal when he lost the King’s favor. Cromwell was also responsible for getting the King divorced from his queen, Catherine of Aragon, and ensured his marriage to Anne of Boleyn.
Not only does this book has all the political things going on at the time – with the battle against the Vatican to try to the Pope grant the King a divorce the most interesting – it also details Cromwell’s personal life. From his childhood beatings at the hands of his father to the loss of parts of his family as well as his relationships with men like Thomas More.
But it also shows what life was in those days. And not only in the ruling classes. Cromwell has dealings with people from all classes for various reasons. In some instances, only in relation to their subsequent execution. And allow me to say, these executions back then were nasty business. Not only did they burn people frequently for various reasons (and when you’re being burned, you are apparently hoping that it’s not a windy day because the wind blows the flames away from you), they also cut people to pieces while still alive as well as other horrendous things – naturally after a decent round of torture to make sure they had the right culprit.
My only complaint is that I didn’t connect emotionally with any of the characters. Even though Cromwell suffers some tragic losses, I didn’t really feel the connection. I didn’t feel his pain. I connected the most emotionally with the victims of several of the execution scenes that were so unpleasant to read. I know that Mantel has to invent everything about Cromwell’s personal life and I do think she solves it splendidly all in all – this is just a minor quibble.
So not only does it tell Mantel’s version of Cromwell’s life as well as life in England from 1500 to 1535, in particular life at Henry VIII’s court, it’s also an extremely well-written historical fiction novel that demands some historical knowledge from it’s reader. You can’t pick it up as you go. And that’s not a bad thing. However, I do recommend familiarizing yourself with this period of British history before picking this book up.

  • Title: Wolf Hall
  • Author: Hilary Mantel
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate
  • Year: 2009
  • Pages: 652 pages
  • Stars: 4 out of 5 stars
  • Winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize for fiction

NB: I read this book in 2011 – I’m just a bit late in writing the review.