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Man Booker Prize shows the Tudors still got it

October 6, 2009 |  4:00 pm


The prestigious Man Booker Prize has been awarded to Hilary Mantel for "Wolf Hall," her historical fiction of Henry VIII's court. Mantel was considered the odds-on favorite going into tonight's ceremony in London -- yes, the British do take bets on who will win a book prize -- and beat out shortlisted authors A.S. Byatt, J.M. Coetzee,  Adam Foulds, Simon Mawer and Sarah Waters. In addition to the honor of winning the award, Mantel will receive $83,500.

"Wolf Hall," scheduled for U.S. release Oct. 13, is said to be a minutely researched yet sweeping historical novel of the Tudor period. Told from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, the book follows the courtly machinations that keep Henry VIII in power as he breaks with Rome to marry Anne Boleyn.

In Mantel's telling, historical tropes get a freshening-up. Cromwell is more bureaucrat than revolutionary, Sir Thomas More is not the heroic man of faith as we've come to know, and Henry VIII is not the virile sex fiend of the Tudors.

The Man Booker has boosted sales for all its shortlisted books this year and in the past has brought its winners significant international attention. But in this case, is it possible the British monarchy may resonate more with the British than with international audiences? Perhaps -- or perhaps readers everywhere will find this version of Henry VIII's 500-year-old story as delectable as Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Author Hilary Mantel with her Man Booker-winning "Wolf Hall." Credit: Alastair Grant / Associated Press