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Hilary Mantel: First British Booker Prize winner in five years


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.

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 MantelWolf Hall11/10
Simon MawerThe Glass Room4/1
JM CoetzeeSummertime6/1
Sarah WatersThe Little Stranger6/1
AS ByattThe Children’s Book10/1
Adam FouldsThe Quickening Maze12/1
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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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India and the Booker

The Booker Prize (now the Man Booker) has been won by novels set in India six times in the 40-year history of the Commonwealth’s biggest literature prize. That’s excluding The Life of Pi, the 2002 winner by the Canadian writer Yann Martel, which I haven’t read but which is also partly set in India. I discovered that going through the list of winners published by the Observer, which is asking readers to name their favourite Booker winner.

Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, the 1981 Booker Prize winner, was declared the Booker of Bookers in 1993. The other India-based Booker winners are:

  • The Siege of Krishnapur, by JG Farrell (1973)
  • Heat and Dust, by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1975)
  • Staying On, by Paul Scott (1977)
  • The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy (1997)
  • The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai (2006)

The Irish writer Ann Enright’s The Gathering was the winner last year. Also on the shortlist was the Indian Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People along with former Booker winner Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, the Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Nicola Barker’s Darkmans and Lloyd Jones’ Mister Pip. (The winner is chosen from a shortlist of six.)

While Kiran Desai won in 2006, the only other Indian to make the shortlist since 2000 was Rohinton Mistry for Family Matters in 2002.

Kiran Desai’s mother, Anita Desai, made the shortlist in 1999 for Fasting, Feasting. Apart from Roy, who won in 1997, the only other Indian shortlisted in the 1990s was Mistry, again, in 1996 for A Fine Balance.

India’s early success and long dry spell

Indian writers and novels set in India seem to have done best in the Booker’s early days. They won four times between 1973 and 1981 but never again until Arundhati Roy took the literary world by storm in 1997. Rushdie was shortlisted twice, for The Satanic Verses in 1988 and Shame in 1983 — but Vikram Seth never. That is really surprising: he is one of the finest contemporary writers.

Personally, I think the Booker is overrated. I didn’t enjoy reading Margaret Atwood’s Blind Assassin, the 2000 winner. Some of the winners between the late 90s and the early noughties were a little too trendy for my taste. Reading the reviews was enough to put me off.

But there’s no denying that nothing moves books like a Booker. Although this year’s longlist — the initial nominees — won’t be announced till July 29 and the winner revealed only on October 14. the Booker website is already busy. The judges’ panel is headed by the former Conservative cabinet minister Michael Portillo and includes writer and broadcaster Hardeep Singh Kohli.

Here’s the complete list of Booker Prize winners: