Hilary Mantel wins Man Booker Prize - Again!

Hilary Mantel has won the 2012 Man Booker Prize for Bring up the Bodies, making her the first woman - and the first British person - to win it twice. (The only other writers to win the prize twice have been Peter Carey and J.M. Coetzee.) It is also the first occasion where a sequel has won the prize.

‘You wait 20 years for a Booker Prize and two come along at once,’ were Mantel’s first words, on accepting the prize. Her last win was in 2009, for Wolf Hall.

‘I have to do something very difficult now,’ she said. ‘I have to go away and write the third book in the trilogy.’

Mantel modestly added that she’s sure she won’t win again for her book-in-progress, though other observers don’t share her certainty. ‘There’s every possibility she might pull off a unique treble when she completes the trilogy,’ Jonathan Ruppin of Foyles bookshops told the Guardian today.

Bring up the Bodies is set over nine months in 1535, leading up to the execution of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII - who broke with Rome and set up his own church in order to marry her. Like Wolf Hall, it is told from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmith’s son who rose to become the king’s chief minister.

‘A writer who thinks through the blood’

‘It is a bloody story, but Hilary Mantel is a writer who thinks through the blood and uses her art and power of prose to create moral ambiguities,’ said chair of the Booker judges Peter Stothard, editor of the Times Literary Supplement.

He praised Bring up the Bodies as having ‘utterly surpassed’ the achievements of Wolf Hall, though he also stressed that the judges did not discuss the earlier book during their deliberations. ‘It is an extraordinary book in its own right but it is tighter, I think she has learned lessons from Wolf Hall in the way that the prose is written.’

Judges prize creating ‘a canon’ over ‘readability’

In his speech before presenting the prize, Stodhart gave an especial mention to small publishers, ‘who this year gave us great things’. Half of the six publishers on this year’s shortlist were published by small, regional publishers.

Stodhart seemed to emphasise the contrast of his panel’s approach to the Booker with last year, when chair of the judges Stella Rimington announced she was looking for ‘readability’ (and, concluded the Guardian’s Robert McCrum, came up with ‘the worst shortlist ever’).

‘Someone accused me last week of not selecting novels they could read on the beach,’ said Stodhart. ‘I merely wanted novels they would not leave on the beach.’

He spoke of the Man Booker winners coming together over the years to ‘form a catalogue and unfashionable as it may be, a canon’.

A diverse and well-judged shortlist

The full shortlist for the 2012 Man Booker Prize was: Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil (Faber & Faber), Swimming Home by Deborah Levy (And Other Stories), Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate), The Lighthouse by Alison Moore (Salt), Umbrella by Will Self (Bloomsbury), and The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (Myrmidon Books).

Readings books division manager Martin Shaw praised the shortlist to Bookseller+Publisher, along with ‘the judging panels’ apparent cool-headedness in the face of a prize culture - the Booker included in some years - that seems skewed to the book or author with the highest public profile, rather than judging by the words on the page alone.’

A six-hour BBC adaptation of Mantel’s Booker-winning double is planned for 2013. The third book, which she has already begun writing, is to be called The Mirror and the Light.

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