Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Booker Prize winner announced for 2009

The winner of the 2009 Booker Prize has finally been announced after much anticipation - British-born Hilary Mantel with her intricate historical novel Wolf Hall. Fighting off stiff competition from two-time Booker Prize winner and my personal favourite to win, South African J. M. Coetzee, Mantel has picked up the prize and a lovely $80,000 cheque for her efforts.

Mantel's novel charts the chaos caused by Henry VIII's desire to marry Anne Boleyn, as seen through the eyes of the king's royal adviser, Thomas Cromwell.

The king's longing for a male heir led him to leave his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, for Anne Boleyn, a woman widely regarded in court circles as a seductress and even rumoured to be a witch. The Vatican's refusal to annul the king's first marriage led the king to reject the authority of the pope and install himself as head of the Church of England.

The book centers on the real-life figure of Cromwell, who was born a blacksmith's son, but rose to become one of the most powerful men in 16th-century England. He is portayed in the book as a ruthless but intelligent man straining against the restrictions placed upon him by society.

James Naughtie, chairman of the Booker prize judges, said the decision to give Wolf Hall the award was "based on the sheer bigness of the book. The boldness of its narrative, its scene setting ... The extraordinary way that Hilary Mantel has created what one of the judges has said was a contemporary novel, a modern novel, which happens to be set in the 16th century."

Mantel is now working on a short non-fiction book called The Woman Who Died of Robespierre, about the Polish playwright Stanislawa Przybyszewska. She also writes reviews and essays, mainly for The Guardian, the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books.

Although Mantel was a frontrunner for the prize, it is surprising in a sense as it is extremely unusual for a historical novel to win the coveted award. Congratulations to Hilary Mantel and we do hope that J.M. Coetzee will get that elusive Booker hat trick one of these days.

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