Margaret Thatcher and the books of her time

I blogged about Margaret Thatcher and the music of her time and have seen quite a few articles since then about the British pop music scene of that era. One should recall the books, too. It was a grand time for booklovers.

P.G. Wodehouse died in 1975, but one could look forward to new books by  John le Carre, Len Deighton, P.D. James, Colin Dexter, Ruth Rendell, Gerald Durrell and a phalanx of literary fiction.

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World War II in books and films

Here's September 1 one day late: September 1, 1939, written by WH Auden in New York when Germany invaded Poland, starting the Second World War.

The war produced epic novels and movies. Casablanca was made in 1942, the year America joined the war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Brief Encounter was made in 1945, From Here to Eternity in 1953.

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Wolf Hall: A Booker winner for story lovers

 Hilary_mantel
There's nothing arty farty about Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. The 2009 Booker Prize winner is solid entertainment for anyone who loves a good story.

Set in the reign of Henry VIII, it charts the rise of Thomas Cromwell, a blacksmith's son who becomes the king's most trusted adviser and the most powerful man in the kingdom.

Now why should that interest anyone except history buffs?

I was surprised by how contemporary it is.

There are no "forsooths" and "begorrahs" here, no archaisms to look up in the dictionary.

Mantel writes in modern English and yet recaptures the old England beautifully.

It's like a postcard from an exotic place. The lords and ladies wear doublets and gowns, shoot bows and arrows, and marry partners chosen by their parents before they are out of their teens — but they are no different from us in their feelings, impulses and motivations.

This is a book about politics, sex, intrigue and ambition.

Henry VIII's England is like a modern dictatorship. We see his deputy, Cromwell, draft new laws to stifle dissent and get them passed by parliament.

We see the religious persecution under Cromwell's predecessor, Sir Thomas More, who opposed the Reformation and imprisoned anyone found with an English translation of the Bible.

Yet the ruler himself, Henry VIII, wants to be loved by his people. And it is remarkable the devotion he inspires.

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Hilary Mantel: First British Booker Prize winner in five years

Hilary_mantel Hilary Mantel became the first British writer to win the £50,000 Man Booker Prize since Alan Hollinghurst won the award for The Line of Beauty five years ago, in 2004.

Mantel's historical epic, Wolf Hall, about Thomas Cromwell, adviser to Henry VIII, had been the popular favourite to win the award despite competition from strong contenders like the 2003 Nobel Prize winner JM Coetzee, who had won the Booker twice, for Life & Times of Michael K in 1983 and Disgrace in 1999, and AS Byatt, the 1990 Booker winner for Possession.

The Indian Aravind Adiga won the prize last year for The White Tiger, the Irish Anne Enright won for The Gathering in 2007, the Indian Kiran Desai won in 2006 for The Inheritance Of Loss, and the Irish John Banville for The Sea in 2005.

Mantel is only the third British Booker winner in 12 years following on the success of Alan Hollinghurst in 2004 and Ian McEwan, who won the prize in 1998 for Amsterdam. 

Here is an excerpt from Wolf Hall published in the New York Review of Books.

And here's the buzz on Twitter and FriendFeed.

The Times reports:

"The hottest favourite in the 41-year history of the Man Booker Prize edged home last night when Wolf Hall was named the winner in a secret ballot by three votes to two.

"The judges described Hilary Mantel’s 650-page doorstopper about political manoeuvring at the court of Henry VIII as an “extraordinary piece of storytelling . . . a modern novel that happens to be set in the 16th century”.

"It is the first favourite to triumph in Britain’s leading literary competition since Yann Martel’s Life of Pi in 2002. Booksellers predicted that Wolf Hall would go on to outsell all previous Booker winners."

Mantel, 57, is now writing a sequel to Wolf Hall, called The Mirror And The Light, which will take the story up to Thomas Cromwell's execution in 1540, says Bloomberg.

"I am happily flying through the air," she said after winning the award. But she added on a more serious note: "'It's earnings. That may seem a very cold way of looking at a major award, but cost out what an author earns per hour and it's far, far less than the minimum wage. The return is not great. The money from prizes, welcome though it is, must be used to pay the mortgage," says the Telegraph.

The Guardian recalls:

"In an interview earlier this year, Mantel said she felt Wolf Hall was going to be her breakout novel…

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Booker buzz 2009

The winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize will be announced at 10 pm tonight (UK time), says Man Booker. That will be early tomorrow morning in Asia. Meanwhile, here's the buzz on the £50,000 Commonwealth literary award on Twitter and FriendFeed.

Booker2009authors

Hear the BBC interviews with the six shortlisted authors — JM Coetzee, AS Byatt, Hilary Mantel, Sarah Waters, Adam Foulds and Simon Mawer. You can also listen to extracts from their respective novels: Summertime, The Children's Book, Wolf Hall, The Little Stranger, The Quickening Maze and The Glass Room.

Click here or here to listen to the BBC interviews and the readings.

Unusually, all the shortlisted authors are British except the South African born Coetzee. He has won the prize twice before — for Life & Times of Michael K in 1983 and Disgrace in 1999.

The Indian Aravind Adiga won last year for The White Tiger.

Alan Hollinghurst was the last British winner, taking the prize in 2004 for The Line Of Beauty.

Hilary Mantel is the odds-on favourite to win this year for her historical novel, Wolf Hall, set in the court of Henry VIII and centring on the character of Thomas Cromwell.

The Online Betting Guide gives the following odds on all the six shortlisted authors and their works.

Hilary Mantel Wolf Hall 11/10
Simon Mawer The Glass Room 4/1
JM Coetzee Summertime 6/1
Sarah Waters The Little Stranger 6/1
AS Byatt The Children's Book 10/1
Adam Foulds The Quickening Maze 12/1

First Booker for a Brit in five years?

A British writer is likely to win the Man Booker Prize for the first time in five years when the winner is announced tomorrow. Unless the South African born Nobel Prize winner JM Coetzee wins the Booker for the third time — and sets a new record in the Booker's 41-year history.

All the five other writers on this year's shortlist are from the British Isles.

That is highly unusual for the Booker.

The prize for the best in English fiction from the Commonwealth and Ireland has been won by a Briton only twice in the past 12 years. Alan Hollinghurst was the last British winner in 2004 for The Line Of Beauty. Ian McEwan was the previous British winner, for Amsterdam in 1998.

There have been more Indian than British winners in the past 12 years. Arundhati Roy won for The God Of Small Things in 1997, Kiran Desai for The Inheritance Of Loss in 2006 and Aravind Adiga for The White Tiger last year.

This video shows the shortlist being announced earlier this month. (Another video at the end of this post.)

Coetzee, the 2003 Nobel Prize winner, won the Booker for Life & Times of Michael K in 1983 and Disgrace in 1999 — and has been shortlisted this year for Summertime.

The English novelist AS Byatt is another past winner back in the fray. The 1990 winner for Possession is on the shortlist this year for The Children's Book.

But the punters' favourite is Hilary Mantel, author of the historical saga, Wolf Hall, set in the court of Henry VIII and centring on the character of Thomas Cromwell.

Here are the odds on the six shortlisted authors and their books cited by a betting website:

Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall – (2 – 1 Favourite)

Sarah Waters – The Little Stranger – (4 – 1)

JM Coetzee – Summertime – (6 – 1)

AS Byatt – The Children's Book – (10 – 1)

Simon Mawer – The Glass Room – (14 – 1)

Adam Foulds – The Quickening Maze – (16 – 1)

Other past Booker winners include Anne Enright (The Gathering, 2007), John Banville (The Sea, 2005), DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, 2003), Yann Martel (Life Of Pi, 2002), Peter Carey (True History Of The Kelly Gang, 2001) and Margaret Atwood (The Blind Assassin, 2000).

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The White Tiger: Clever but…

Aravind_adiga
I am surprised that Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger is on the shortlist for the Booker Prize but not Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence. Would anyone want to read The White Tiger a second time?

No doubt it’s a clever book but I was repelled by the details.

What makes it unusual is that it’s written as a series of letters to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, of all people, by an Indian explaining how he made good, rising from a servant cum chauffeur to a successful entrepreneur in Bangalore. It’s a satire, I guess, about the corruption, exploitation and poverty that exist in India. But there’s nothing funny about this book beyond the smart-alecky style in which the letter writer addresses the Chinese leader.   

The letter writer, Balram Halwai, has every reason to be cynical from all that he has seen in life. His own success is built on a crime – the murder of his employer and the money he stole from him. Instead of being caught and punished for his crime, he ends up with the police on his payroll, bribing them to help him in his business.

The author’s success lies in his ability to make us look at life from Balram’s perspective.

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