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3 - Hilary Mantel: Raising the Dead, Speaking the Truth

from Part I - Four Voices for the New Millennium

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 December 2017

Lisa Fletcher
Affiliation:
Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Tasmania
James Acheson
Affiliation:
University of Canterbury
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Summary

In 2012, Hilary Mantel became only the third author to win the Man Booker Prize twice, joining Peter Carey and J. M. Coetzee. Her winning novel, Bring up the Bodies, is a sequel to Wolf Hall, winner of the Man Booker in 2009. No sequel had ever won before and no author had gained the prestigious prize so soon after winning it for the first time. Mantel shot to fame in 2009, and at the time described her nine previous novels as something of a long apprenticeship for Wolf Hall, a 650-page work of historical fiction about the court of Henry VIII.

Her first novel, Every Day Is Mother's Day, was published in 1985 to positive reviews, but she is careful to point out in interviews that she wrote this short novel about contemporary England only because she failed to find a publisher for her first work of fiction, an extremely long historical novel about the French Revolution. This longer work, A Place of Greater Safety, was eventually released as Mantel's fifth novel in 1992. She explains, ‘I only became a novelist because I thought I had missed my chance to become a historian.’ If A Place of Greater Safety had appeared first, Mantel's career would probably have played out very differently, and the Tudor novels would almost certainly have come as less of a surprise to readers. In a review of Bring up the Bodies for the New York Times, Charles McGrath writes that Mantel ‘belongs to the same generation, roughly, as her compatriots Martin Amis, Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan, and is every bit their equal’, but is not as well known. This is no longer the case: sales of her back catalogue reportedly rose by 900 per cent after the Wolf Hall Man Booker Prize 2009, and then rose further when the Chair of the judges for the Man Booker Prize 2012 proclaimed her the ‘greatest modern English prose writer working today’; sales increased again when the Royal Shakespeare Company adapted Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies for sell-out stage productions in January 2014, then skyrocketed a year later with the BBC televi-sion adaptation of the two novels.

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Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2017

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