Wednesday, October 07, 2009

mantel piece

I see Hilary Mantel has won the Booker Prize (it's now the Man Booker Prize, strictly) for 2009 - she was the heavy favourite throughout the run-up to the announcement, though apparently there is a bit of a history of favourites not winning in recent years.

The book, Wolf Hall, is a 650-page historical epic about Henry VIII's sidekick Thomas Cromwell; by all accounts a fairly sympathetic portrayal, contrasting with his portrayal (by Leo McKern, aka Rumpole of the Bailey - on the right in the picture) as a weaselly Machiavellian schemer in the classic 1966 film A Man For All Seasons. Just as an aside, the first time I saw A Man For All Seasons was when I was about 9 years old; it was shown to us at Bandung International School in Bandung, Java which I attended between late 1978 and early 1980. What the motivation was in showing a film covering some fairly complex religious and political matters and ending with the principal character getting his head cut off to a class of 9-year-olds of assorted nationalities I have no idea. I assume they just needed to fill a 2-hour lesson slot after running out of teachers, or something like that, and perhaps it was the only thing they could find. If you haven't seen the film, then a) you should, and b) have a look at the clips here, here and here.

Anyway, while I'm probably not going to be rushing out and reading Wolf Hall (both the length and the subject matter are a bit off-putting, though the Henry VIII era does have an awful lot of entertaining beheading action), I'm sure it's very good. There is perhaps a sense of this being one of those occasions where the Booker is being awarded for a body of work rather than a particular book, though, rather like when actors like Paul Newman get Oscars late in their careers for relatively undistinguished films. Looking at the list of past winners I'd say this applies to:
  • possibly John Banville in 2005
  • probably Margaret Atwood in 2000
  • definitely Ian McEwan in 1998
  • possibly Graham Swift in 1996
  • possibly Penelope Lively in 1987
  • probably Kingsley Amis in 1986
  • possibly William Golding in 1980
The two Hilary Mantel books I have read are Fludd, which is a slightly odd, short and blackly comic novel involving priests, and An Experiment In Love, which is a more orthodox girls at university coming-of-age novel. Both good without being massively startling or memorable, I'd say. Just to do the obscure award-spotting bit, Fludd won the charmingly-named Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize in 1989 (my list goes: 1983, 1989, 1998) and An Experiment In Love won the 1996 Hawthornden Prize, as already noted here.

No comments: