Are the Hilary Mantel Booker winners actually that good?

Is there something I am missing?  I thought Wolf Hall was quite good, but I didn’t really see why it was so revolutionary as a work of historical fiction.  After all plenty of authors have written great historic fiction before.  I also felt that as someone who has read a lot of Tudor history that there was a lot of content I had read about so many times before.  Anyway, now Bring Up the Bodies has won the Booker, making Mantel the first British author to have done so twice.

I was planning to read this book once it appeared in a charity shop near me but now it looks like I might have to track it down a bit sooner.  I have to admit that this one sounds more exciting with it dealing with the trial and execution of Anne Boleyn, I can’t think that people are be as sympathetic to Cromwell as they were after Wolf Hall (although that was lost on me too, it definitely goes against traditional historiography).  So my question is, if you know lots about Henry VIII already, can you still really enjoy these books?

In the interests of balance I include this video summarising why Mantel should have won (it didn’t persuade me – would Cromwell really have said, “I was always in the money. I always got the girl”, is he some 21st century gigalo?) and  a link to an interview with Mantel herself.

Mantel Interview




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3 responses to “Are the Hilary Mantel Booker winners actually that good?

  1. Carol Jepson

    Wolf Hall really divides people doesn’t it! I don’t suppose he would have come out with those phrases but he might have had those sentiments and, if she had used Tudor English it would have been tedious to read and would feel false. I also know quite a lot about Tudor England but suspect most readers don’t. I liked the detail about Cromwell’s family and background and the insight (however dependent it was on the author’s imagination and supposition) into life in those times. I enjoyed this more than the political aspects and the relationship with Henry VIII. I will read the sequel when the paperback is available so no idea if it deserved to win Booker. I read her earlier book about Danton which is called something like A Place of Greater Safety – it was very worthy but it didn’t grab me in the same way.

  2. Laura

    In answer to your Q Kerry: Yes & I know a fair bit about the Tudors! I realise we’ve had this discussion, but… I loved ‘Wolf Hall’, but am waiting for ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ to come out in paperback. Read the hardback copy of ‘Wolf Hall’ in a weekend a couple of years ago & loved it’s revisionist view of Cromwell. Certainly made me think differently about him. Whether it’s a true perception or not, it made me think & I love that in a book. Have also read ‘A Change of Climate’ years ago, but not my charity shop bargain copy of ‘A Place of Greater Safety’ which has been sat on my bookshelves for donkeys… x

    • Well I read a Place of Greater Safety and quite enjoyed that, as far as it is possible to enjoy a novel about the Terror. I also read Beyond Black and Fludd which I didn´t like much. I stand corrected about people who know their history liking the books but I just find as an historian the way that she has had to completely invent the character of Cromwell due to the lack of evidence about him just really misleading and biased. Anyway I suppose that is the nature of historical fiction, it isn´t really history, still prefer a good Jean Plaidy.

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