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Expert Comment: Hilary Mantel wins Man Booker Prize

Hilary Mantel Thursday 18 October 2012

As Hilary Mantel wins the Man Booker Prize for the second time, Dr Alice Bennett, Lecturer in English Literature at Liverpool Hope, looks at what this means for the long-running literary prize.

The announcement on Tuesday of the winner of the 2012 Man Booker Prize was more notable than ever, with the news that the British writer, Hilary Mantel, was to be awarded the prize for a second time. She joins J.M. Coetzee and Peter Carey on the list of double-winners of the Booker.

Before her first win in 2009, Mantel had begun to get a reputation as an under-rated writer: she was someone who was shortlisted for literary prizes and celebrated for her work, but never won. This changed with the enormous success of Wolf Hall, the first novel in what is now a projected trilogy of works about the life of Thomas Cromwell, which was awarded the Booker Prize in 2009. The second novel in the trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies, has continued to explore Cromwell's personal history, and imagine all the intrigue and complexity of Henry VIII's court in a prose style as dense and intricate as the politics of the period.

The politics of the Booker Prize itself are almost as entertaining and colourful as the novels on the shortlist. This year, for instance, Mantel's competition came from the favourite, Will Self's Umbrella, a self-consciously difficult and demanding novel that is written in the tradition of modernist experiments with stream-of-consciousness techniques. Last year, when Dame Stella Rimington chaired the Booker Prize judges, she suggested that they were looking for 'readability', a feature that commentators interpreted as precluding literary writing, experimentation or difficulty. Perhaps as a reaction to last year's populist pronouncements from the judging panel, Self's challenging novel seemed a likely contender.

With this debate about the accessibility of the winning novel in mind, it is particularly interesting that Mantel should have won again this year and for this novel. Not only has Bring Up the Bodies outsold its rivals on the shortlist many times over, but Mantel's series also reflects the growing popularity of trilogies across the market for fiction.

More often the preferred format of genre fiction and children's or young adult literature, one of the most significant features of Mantel's win this week could well be increased attention to and appreciation for serial fiction, and particularly the trilogy. In any case, many fans will be keen to read the concluding book of the series, The Mirror and the Light, and discover whether Mantel can become the first winner of the Booker treble.

 
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