Not since Life of Pi by Yann Martel won the Booker Prize for Fiction in 2002 has the favorite won. Until today, that is. Minutes ago, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall was announced as this year's Booker winner. The Times reports that Mantel's 650-page historical novel about the life and times of Thomas Cromwell edged out the competition "in a secret ballot by three votes to two." James Naughtie, chair of the judges panel, said that "Mantel’s book was the most towering achievement in a shortlist that resembled an alpine landscape of accomplishment."
Booksellers are thrilled with this result. Janine Cook, the fiction buyer for Waterstone’s, commented to the Times "that Wolf Hall was the sort of book that brought new readers to literary fiction."
Here's the publisher's description of the book:
England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. The quest for the king’s freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum.
Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: he is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?
In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel presents a picture of a half-made society on the cusp of change, where individuals fight or embrace their fate with passion and courage. With a vast array of characters, overflowing with incident, the novel re-creates an era when the personal and political are separated by a hairbreadth, where success brings unlimited power but a single failure means death.