by Hilary Mantel
Fourth Estate HK$121
Here it is, then, the 2009 Man Booker winner. Hilary Mantel has arrived, with her big cheque and even bigger boost to her sales. It has been a long time coming: Mantel has published many worthy works (Fludd, Beyond Black) before triumphing with this gloriously written historical story set in the court of Henry VIII. Our hero is not Henry but Thomas Cromwell, his chief minister and political enforcer. Cromwell has not had a good time of it in recent history books. Perhaps it takes a novelist of Mantel's skills to bring out his humanity. Born far from the court into relative poverty, Mantel's Cromwell is a mover and shaker - the sort of man, were you to meet him in a dark alley, who would walk away 'dusting off his hands and smiling'. Mantel charts his rise from a rough upbringing in Putney (his father is a drunk and a bully) via a protean existence in France and Italy (as soldier, banker, trader) to his eventual supplanting of Thomas Wolsey at Henry's right hand. It is a story driven by the king's manifold moods, and Cromwell's sharp attempts to anticipate and serve them. Mantel tells a complex tale about complex characters with pace and grace. A worthy winner indeed.