Hilary Mantel does Booker double with 'Bring Up the Bodies'

Hilary Mantel becomes the first British author, and the first woman, to win the literary prize twice, after first receiving the accolade in 2009

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 October, 2012, 3:37am

British writer Hilary Mantel has won the prestigious Man Booker literary prize for a second time with her blood-soaked Tudor saga Bring Up the Bodies, which the head of the judging panel said had "rewritten the book" on historical fiction.

Mantel, who took the £50,000 (HK$625,000) award in 2009 for Wolf Hall, is the first British author, and the first woman, to achieve a Booker double.

"You wait 20 years for a Booker Prize, and two come along at once," Mantel joked as she accepted the award at London's medieval Guildhall. "I regard this as an act of faith and a vote of confidence."

Mantel, who quipped in 2009 that she planned to spend her prize money on sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll, said "I'm afraid the answer will be much duller this year."

"Rehab", she joked, before adding: "My pension, probably."

Bring Up the Bodies is the first sequel to win the prize. It and Wolf Hall are parts of a planned trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, the powerful and ambiguous chief minister to King Henry VIII.

Alternately thoughtful and thuggish, trying to keep his head in a treacherous world, Mantel's Cromwell has drawn comparisons to the mafia don at the centre of the Godfather saga, and Mantel's novel combines finely wrought prose with thriller touches.

"You can see as much Don Corleone in this book as D.H. Lawrence," said Times Literary Supplement editor Peter Stothard, who chaired the Booker judging panel.

"This is a bloody story," Stothard said. "But Hilary Mantel is a writer who thinks through the blood. She uses her art, her power of prose, to create moral ambiguity."

Bring Up the Bodies traces the intertwined fates of Cromwell and the monarch's second wife, Anne Boleyn, who fell from favour when she failed to produce a male heir.

Stothard said the new book "utterly surpassed" the earlier novel, breathing new life into a well-known story. Henry VIII's reign has inspired many fictional treatments, from the acclaimed play and film A Man for All Seasons to the TV series The Tudors.

Stothard said Bring Up the Bodies showed "the greatest modern English prose writer reviving possibly one of the best-known pieces of English history."

"This is all well-trodden territory with an inevitable outcome, and yet she is able to bring it to life as though for the first time," he said. "She has rewritten the book on writing historical fiction."

The judging panel, which included Downton Abbey actor Dan Stevens, met for just over two hours Tuesday to pick its winner.

The Booker, established in 1969, usually brings huge sales and a global publicity boost for the winner.

Before she won three years ago, Mantel was a critically praised but commercially lukewarm author of novels about subjects from the French Revolution A Place of Greater Safety to the life of a psychic medium Beyond Black. Now, the 60-year-old author is a best-selling sensation.

"My publishers were always announcing my breakthrough and it never really happened," she said of her early career. "My fortunes began to turn when I met Thomas Cromwell."