Top Brit novel finally arrives in U.S. bookstores next week
To no one’s surprise, Hilary Mantel’s novel of Tudor intrigue, Wolf Hall, took the Man Booker Prize yesterday. U.S. readers can judge it for themselves next week, when Holt publishes an American edition
Mantel beat out a strong short list of contenders, including two-time winner J.M. Coetzee and A.S. Byatt, also a previous winner. Judges tussled behind closed doors for three hours before selecting Wolf Hall on a three-two vote.
The prize carries a £50,000 purse ($83,000) for Mantel, 57, who won for the first time in a distinguished and varied writing career. What’s more, the Man Booker increases sales.
Last year’s winner, Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger, has sold more than 500,000 copies and been translated into 30 languages, reports NPR. Already by far the most popular among the nominees, Wolf Hall has 100,000 copies in circulation. The novel’s British publisher shipped an additional 65,000 after Monday’s announcement.
Readers, critics and bookies — apparently the British will bet on anything– all expected Mantel’s win. The novel, a retelling of Henry VIII’s machinations to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Bolyn, is said to be “sweeping” in scope, historically accurate, yet still modern.
At one point, odds-makers had Wolf Hall as a 16-1 favorite, according to the Guardian — which could have worked against it. Mantel’s novel is the first odds-makers’ favorite to win since Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi in 2002.
BBC broadcaster Jim Naughtie, who chaired the panel of judges, praised the novel’s scale and skill, the Guardian reported: “Our decision was based on the sheer bigness of the book, the boldness of its narrative and scene-setting, the gleam that there is in its detail.”
Wolf Hall centers on the low-born Thomas Cromwell, an ambitious lawyer who rose to become Henry’s chief “fixer, spin doctor and propagandist.” As we all should know by now, Henry’s drive to produce an heir, taking and discarding six wives in the process, led to a break with the Pope and the establishment of the Church of England–monumental historic developments.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Mantel’s achievement is her ability to make such overly familiar material seem worth reading about again.
The inherent drama in this bit of key British history has been mined for innumerable books, plays, movies, and TV shows, including Robert Bolt’s play, A Man For All Seasons; last year’s film The Other Boleyn Girl, starring those well-known classical British actresses Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson; and “The Tudors,” Showtime’s hit drama with Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VII.
The Los Angeles Times says in Mantel’s version, familiar historical characters — all real — “get a a freshening-up. Cromwell is more bureaucrat than revolutionary, Sir Thomas More is not the heroic man of faith as we’ve come to know, and Henry VIII is not the virile sex fiend of ‘The Tudors.'”
Meanwhile, the Man Booker Prize should catapult Mantel to the upper reaches of literary popularity. The Guardian termed her one of the “most highly regarded” and “under-rewarded” of British novelists. Wolf Hall was her first book to reach the Man Booker short list.
Mantel, the author of a dozen novels and memoirs, first conceived of Wolf Hall 20 years ago, and spent five years writing it. She called the prize money “earnings,” saying “cost out what an author earns per hour, it’s far, far less than the minimum wage … It must pay the mortgage, as authors have to do.”
The Guardian reports Mantel is at work on a sequel, titled The Mirror and the Light. “What I have got at the moment is a huge box of notes,” she said.