Sometimes lightning strikes twice, and we can only be grateful. Hilary Mantel, whose Wolf Hall won the Man Booker Prize in 2009—in the process redefining historical fiction and the very concept of narrative voice—has won the Man Booker again, this time for Wolf Hall’s sequel, Bring Up the Bodies. It’s only the third time that an author has won the prize twice (Mantel’s lucky confreres are J.M. Coetzee and Peter Carey) and only the first time that a sequel has won.
And what a sequel! It’s easily as absorbing as Wolf Hall and perhaps even more fluid and daring; Mantel has settled beautifully into the distinctive voice she has created for her main character, Thomas Cromwell, in his uneasy dance with larger-than-life Henry VIII.
Sir Peter Stothard, chair of the Man Booker judging panel, confirmed that he thought Bring Up the Bodies was even more powerful than its predecessor and praised the freshness of Mantel’s entire Cromwell enterprise. “We have the greatest modern English prose writer reviving possibly one of the best-known pieces of English history. It is well-trodden territory with an inevitable outcome, and yet she is able to bring it to life as though for the first time.”
David Keymer, who reviewed both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies for LJ, further clarifies Mantel’s special power. “What makes it exceptional (in addition to the extraordinarily high literary quality) is how Mantel used her historical imagination to fill in the gaps in the historical record. We know a great deal about Cromwell’s public actions and policies, and their effect, but almost nothing about him as a man. Mantel creates a full-fleshed human being, one who is consonant with his age and his known deeds, but who is richer, more human.”
The good news is that there’s more to come. Mantel’s two Booker Prize winners are part of a trilogy, with the third title—The Mirror and the Light—scheduled for release in 2015. While we’re waiting, BBC is getting ready a six-hour television adaptation of the first two books, to be aired in late 2013.
Meanwhile, Mantel will be reaping the benefits of her most recent win. There’s always debate in this country whether awards bring increased sales. But according to the BBC, Wolf Hall swooped from 36,000 copies to more than 600,000 copies sold after its 2009 win, and every Man Booker Prize winner since 1996 has grossed more than £1million. Mantel says she’ll contribute her £50,000 prize money to her pension, but here’s hoping that she will never retire.