Hilary Mantel has taken this year's Man Booker prize for her novel Bring Up the Bodies, making her the first Brit—and the first female author—to win two Bookers. The news is history-making in an award for which male recipients outnumber female winners two-to-one, but those who've been paying attention won't be surprised by the announcement. Literary critics and bookies alike predicted a victory for Mantel, with Umbrella author Will Self widely tipped as her main competition.
Mantel last won the Booker in 2009 for Wolf Hall, the first installment in her trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell. England's chief minister under Henry VIII, Cromwell was a pivotal figure in the English Reformation, notable for helping the King divorce Catherine of Aragon so he could get hitched with his mistress Anne Boleyn.
Bring Up the Bodies picks up the narrative of Wolf Hall, making this year's winner another first—the first Booker awarded to that most unliterary of genres, the sequel. Should Mantel win the trifecta, scoring a Booker for her third installment in the trilogy, bookish brains may explode. Here's a grisly beheading excerpt from Bring Up the Bodies to whet the appetites of readers unfamiliar with Mantel's work:
The queen is alone now, as alone as she has ever been in her life. She says, Christ have mercy, Jesus have mercy, Christ receive my soul. She raises one arm, again her fingers go to the coif, and he thinks, put your arm down, for God’s sake put your arm down, and he could not will it more if—the executioner calls out sharply, ‘Get me the sword.’ The blinded head whips around. The man is behind Anne, she is misdirected, she does not sense him. There is a groan, one single sound from the whole crowd. Then a silence, and into that silence, a sharp sigh or a sound like a whistle through a keyhole: the body exsanguinates, and its flat little presence becomes a puddle of gore.