The 2012 Man Booker Prize in fiction was announced on Tuesday night and the winner made history with her work of historical fiction: Hilary Mantel took the award for her historical novel Bring Up the Bodies, the second volume in Mantel’s reimagnation of the life and career of Thomas Cromwell, Tudor courtier and ultimately the chief minister to Henry VIII.
The initial installment in Mantel’s planned Cromwell trilogy, Wolf Hall, took the prize in 2009, and with the victory of Bring Up the Bodies, she became the first woman to win twice, as well as the first Briton (previous repeat winners were the Australian Peter Carey and South African J.M. Coetzee) and the first recipient to win for a sequel. It triumphed over shortlisted works including Will Self’s Umbrella, Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis, Tan Twan Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists, Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home and Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse.
Writing on Bring Up the Bodies earlier this year, Katherine A. Powers discussed Mantel’s return to Cromwell as “ingenious strategist and ruthless tactician” plagued by his “restless conscience” and noted how that the title echoes throughout its pages:
The novel, so aptly titled, is infused with a sense of corporeality, the bodily nature of existence is manifest everywhere as power and its absence are reflected in the most physical ways. It is entirely pertinent that Cromwell’s body waxes as Anne Boleyn’s wanes. Elsewhere, the predicament of being flesh is set out gruesomely as bodies are burned at the stake, their fat crackling; guts drawn out, their owners clutching at them; and heads severed to torrents of blood.
You can read Powers’ full review of Bring Up the Bodies here.
— BILL TIPPER