Mantel won the 2009 Booker Prize for “Wolf Hall,” the first in a planned trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, a member of Henry VIII’s court. “Bring Up the Bodies” centers on Cromwell and his view of the Tudor court as then-queen Anne Boleyn faces her downfall.
“You wait 20 years for a Booker Prize [and] two come along at once,” Mantel said upon accepting the award Oct. 16 at the Guildhall building in London. The author received 50,000 pounds along with the honor.
“There will always be some kind of genre fiction, whether it's whips and chains or boy wizards, making its way to the top,” Mantel said in an interview with Reuters. “But what is important is there's a healthy appetite for what people off-puttingly call 'serious fiction.’”
Chair of the judging panel Sir Peter Stothard told the BBC that he believed “Bring Up the Bodies” surpasses “Wolf Hall” in excellence.
“She uses her power of prose to create moral ambiguity and the real uncertainty of political life,” Stothard said. “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.”
In a profile of Mantel for the NewStatesman, Sophia Elmhurst called Mantel's Cromwell novels "a combination of wild imagining and unimpeachable accuracy."
Winners of the Man Booker Prize often experience a sales surge after capturing the title, and Mantel’s book “Wolf Hall” had sold 36,000 copies before she won the Booker. Soon after she won, the book reached 600,000 copies sold. Her third installment in her series, “The Mirror and the Light,” is expected to be released in 2015, according to Reuters.
Mantel and author Will Self were regarded as the frontrunners in the race before Tuesday night, with Mantel being seen as slightly in the lead. Self’s novel “Umbrella,” which follows a woman in a psychiatric ward and is written almost without paragraph breaks, may have been regarded as less accessible than “Bring up the Bodies” by some readers.
“Perhaps Umbrella would have been too radical a choice for a prize that, as the country's biggest, cannot help but be a little conservative,” Justine Jordan wrote in the Guardian.
Mantel spent her childhood in Hadfield in northern Derbyshire and wrote her first novel, centering on the French Revolution, while working in a dress shop at 23. She sent it to literary agencies, but she told Larissa Macfarquahr during an interview for a New Yorker profile that she believes the phrase “historical fiction” made editors dismiss it.
“They literally could not read my letter, because of the expectations surrounding the words ‘French Revolution’—that it was bound to be about ladies with high hair,” Mantel said.
She said when she started writing “Wolf Hall” after copious research, she almost laughed because it felt so easy.
“I know the subject matter’s dire, but I was filled with glee and a sense of power, a sense that I knew how to do this,” she told the New Yorker. “It began to unscroll before me like a film; it was in the present tense because I didn’t know what would happen next minute. It was as if after swimming and swimming you’ve suddenly found your feet are on ground that’s firm. I knew from the first paragraph that this was going to be the best thing I’d ever done.”
She told Reuters she’s not worried about bringing her trilogy to a satisfactory close.
“I think I can bring it home in style,” Mantel said.
Check out the video above of Mantel after winning her second Booker Prize.