Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies was announced as the 2012 winner of the Man Booker prize last Tuesday. The win follows the British author’s success in 2009 when she won the prestigious literary award with Wolf Hall, the first in the Tudor trilogy that charts the life of Thomas Cromwell, advisor to King Henry VIII.

Bring up the Bodies is the second instalment of the trilogy that addresses the period of time from 1535 to the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1536. It follows on chronologically from Wolf Hall, which focuses on the beginning of Cromwell’s life between the years 1500 and 1535.  Mantel centres Cromwell as the protagonist of the novel, a bold move that tackles the norms of historical fiction, as it is usually Henry VIII, not Cromwell who is the central figure of Tudor history. The Tudor Period is a largely written about historical period in literature, particularly by contemporary novelists; however Sir Peter Stothard, the chair of the Man Booker award has credited Mantel as being able to “bring it to life as though for the first time” through her ability to “recast the most essential period of our modern English History”.

Mantel’s winning novel was among 145 novels that were initially nominated for the award, followed by the six shortlisted novels in July. Alongside this, the award carries a strict criterion, with rules specifying that the novel must be full-length and written in the English Language by a novelist that originates from the Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland or Zimbabwe. Mantel was chosen as the winner on Tuesday afternoon by the panel of judges in two hours and sixteen minutes.

The Derby-born novelist was officially unveiled as the winner and handed the £50,000 prize on Tuesday night at London’s Guildhall after a lengthy and forensic examination had taken place to decide the winner. She opened her winners speech joking, “You wait 20 years for a Booker prize and then two come along at once”. Winning the award twice is a far cry from the time when Mantel could not find a publisher for Bring up the Bodies because it was deemed “too historical”.

In winning the award, Mantel has literally made history, becoming the first female and the first Briton to win the award twice, joining Peter Carey and JM Coetzee in the latter. Furthermore, Mantel is the first person to have won with a sequel during the 43 years since the award has been established. Mantel studied law at London School of Economics, completing her degree at the University of Sheffield. Her first novel Every Day is Mother’s Day was published in 1985 yet arguably has only been catapulted into the literary limelight during the last decade. Despite this success, Mantel proves to be a largely unwritten about novelist and not largely associated as a popular modern novelist by the British public, and one would hope that winning the internationally renowned award twice can bring worldwide success for the talented novelist.

Fans of the first and second instalments of the trilogy will be waiting in anticipation for the final instalment, which will be called The Mirror and the Light. What’s more, the BBC has bought rights to televise the first and second books in the form of a six-hour adaptation, meaning Mantel’s works will be projected onto a wider audience.

Grace Marsh

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