- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A tale of political intrigue set during the reign of King Henry VIII won the prestigious Man Booker Prize for Fiction on Tuesday.

Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” scooped the $83,500 prize. Miss Mantel’s novel charts the upheaval caused by the king’s desire to marry Anne Boleyn, as seen through the eyes of royal adviser Thomas Cromwell.

Miss Mantel’s novel beat stiff competition from a shortlist that included previous Booker winners A.S. Byatt and J.M. Coetzee.

Set during the reign of Henry VIII, “Wolf Hall” charts the chaos caused by the king’s longing for a male heir — a desire that led him to leave his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, for Anne Boleyn. The Vatican’s refusal to annul the marriage led the king to reject the authority of the pope and install himself as head of the Church of England.

The book centers on royal adviser Thomas Cromwell, depicted as a ruthless but compelling polymath straining against the certainties of his age.

Miss Mantel said Cromwell was the king’s “chief fixer, spin doctor, propagandist for one of the most eventful decades of English history.”

“He was a blacksmith’s son who ended up Earl of Essex,” Miss Mantel told the BBC. “So how did he do it? That’s the question driving the book.”

Miss Mantel said it’s no surprise we remain fascinated by the time of Henry VIII, recently depicted in TV series “The Tudors” and films such as “The Other Boleyn Girl.” She said the period “has everything: It has sex and melodrama, betrayal seduction and violent death.

“What more could you hope for?”

Miss Mantel, 57, is a former social worker and film critic who has written short stories, the memoir “Giving Up the Ghost” and novels, including 2005’s “Beyond Black,” which was shortlisted for a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction. She spent five years writing “Wolf Hall” and is currently working on a sequel.

A Booker win all but guarantees a a big surge in sales. Last year’s winner, Aravind Adiga’s “The White Tiger,” has sold more than a half-million copies and been translated into 30 languages.

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