Monday, September 26, 2022


It's been a while, but evidently the Curse Of Electric Halibut has been biding its time, like a coiled python drowsily digesting its last victim (Joan Didion in December 2021) and has lazily flicked open a baleful eye and decided that the time is ripe for another victim. This time it's Hilary Mantel, recipient of mega-sales and fame (by serious novelist standards anyway) since the 2009 publication of Wolf Hall, the first of her trilogy featuring Thomas Cromwell. Both Wolf Hall and its 2012 sequel, Bring Up The Bodies, won the Booker Prize, securing her membership of the select group of people who have won it more than once - JM Coetzee, Peter Carey and Margaret Atwood are the others, plus arguably JG Farrell if you count the retrospective award cooked up for novels published in 1970. 

Mantel had a perfectly respectable literary career before Wolf Hall, writing odd novels with a mainly contemporary setting. The late-career shift from odd novels with a modern setting to perhaps slightly less odd novels centred on real historical figures (though with some quite large liberties taken with strict historical accuracy) is vaguely reminiscent of Beryl Bainbridge. though Bainbridge's historical novels were pretty terse at around 200 pages and The Mirror And The Light, the concluding part of the Cromwell trilogy, is a meaty 875 pages.

Mantel was a relatively youthful 70 when she died, but had endured a lifetime of health problems mainly associated with years of undiagnosed endometriosis. Only Iain Banks, Michael Dibdin, Henning Mankell and Helen Dunmore were younger when the curse came for them, and only Alison Lurie and John le Carré had to wait longer after the initial book review for the icy hand of death to finally alight on their shoulder. 

Author Date of first book Date of death Age Curse length
Michael Dibdin 31st January 2007 30th March 2007 60 0y 59d
José Saramago 9th May 2009 18th June 2010 87 1y 40d
Beryl Bainbridge 14th May 2008 2nd July 2010 77 2y 50d
Russell Hoban 23rd August 2010 13th December 2011 86 1y 113d
Richard Matheson 7th September 2011 23rd June 2013 87 1y 291d
Iain Banks 6th November 2006 9th June 2013 59 6y 218d
Elmore Leonard April 16th 2009 20th August 2013 87 4y 128d
Doris Lessing 8th May 2007 17th November 2013 94 6y 196d
Gabriel García Márquez 10th July 2007 17th April 2014 87 6y 284d
Ruth Rendell 23rd December 2009 2nd May 2015 85 5y 132d
James Salter 4th February 2014 19th June 2015 90 1y 136d
David Cook 24th February 2009 16th September 2015 74 6y 205d
Henning Mankell 6th May 2013 5th October 2015 67 2y 152d
William McIlvanney 7th September 2010 5th December 2015 79 5y 90d
Umberto Eco 30th June 2012 19th February 2016 84 3y 234d
Anita Brookner 15th July 2011 10th March 2016 87 4y 240d
William Trevor 29th May 2010 20th November 2016 88 6y 177d
John Berger 10th November 2009 2nd January 2017 90 7y 55d
Nicholas Mosley 24th September 2011 28th February 2017 93 5y 159d
Helen Dunmore 10th March 2008 5th June 2017 64 9y 89d
JP Donleavy 21st May 2015 11th September 2017 91 2y 114d
Ursula Le Guin 6th December 2015 22nd January 2018 88 2y 49d
Anita Shreve 2nd September 2006 29th March 2018 71 11y 211d
Philip Roth 23rd December 2017 22nd May 2018 85 0y 150d
Justin Cartwright 7th September 2008 3rd December 2018 75 10y 89d
Toni Morrison 18th July 2010 5th August 2019 88 9y 20d
Charles Portis 3rd April 2018 17th February 2020 86 1y 320d
Alison Lurie 24th March 2007 3rd December 2020 95 13y 254d
John le Carré 21st February 2008 12th December 2020 89 12y 295d
Joan Didion 14th December 2010 23rd December 2021 87 11y 12d
Hilary Mantel 22nd October 2010 22nd September 2022 70 11y 338d

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