tue 07/07/2020

theartsdesk Q&A: Novelist Hilary Mantel | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk Q&A: Novelist Hilary Mantel

theartsdesk Q&A: Novelist Hilary Mantel

A BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall is only the latest triumph for the double Booker winner. But what is the novelist's story?

'It may not change your writing but your career is a different thing': double Man Booker winner Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel is a maker of literary history. Wolf Hall, an action-packed 650-page brick of a book about the rise and rise of Thomas Cromwell, won the Man Booker Prize in 2009. Its successor, the just as sturdy Bring Up the Bodies, followed it onto the Booker rostrum three years later - the first sequel ever to win the prize in its 44-year history. Then came the RSC's stage adaptation of both novels, which started in Stratford, proceeded to the West End and this year goes to Broadway. And now the BBC has adapted Wolf Hall, with Mark Rylance (pictured below) in the title role. For a novelist who has suffered more than most for her art, this double victory for Mantel comes as a remarkable validation.

I have to wonder if it hadn’t been for my poor health, would I have become a writer at all?

Share this article


Our greatest living writer. So delighted to see this while feeling the aftershocks of Beyond Black and Every Day Is Mother's Day. Every sentence is a gem.

Mantel has beautifully grasped both the historical and the personal perspective .It is quite interesting that Cromwell was seen as an utterly hateful person : a lickspittle to the powerful, a tyrant to the weak. And yet because of his success, most people now view him as a Renaissance hero. To make the foul seem fair is not what art should be about.Mantel is a novellist, not a historian. Secondly, every era reinterprets historical figures in its own way. Cromwell, is usually seen as a comic book villain but recent studies have suggested it may be a bit more complex than that.Here Mantel has done a marvellous job. Cromwell’s image as a historical character is refurbished in Mantel’s books more clearly in Bring Up the Bodies than in the earlier novel of the proposed trilogy. The more interesting thing happens in the case of Ann Boleyn. In her own day, and for some time after, she was seen as a sinister shrew who bewitched the king and caused him to abandon the beloved Catherine of Aragon. These days, by contrast, she is seen as the ultimate wronged woman, even as a proto-feminist . But Mantel does not seem to have such a sympathetic view of her in her second book.The most fascinating thing is that, although they ultimately became deadly enemies Cromwell , and Boleyn actually had an awful lot in common. Bring Up the Bodies is more condensed than Wolf Hall in that it charts the nine months of events in 1535 that lead to the execution of Anne Boleyn. It is one of the greatest, best-known stories in English history. The ambiguities of Cromwell resembles like that of The Godfather . In D.H.Lawrence’s The Rainbow we got such a description of the English landscape as we find it in Mantel’s book. The book gives us a picture of Cromwell who has to undo the work that saw Anne Boleyn crowned as Henry's wife. We know how the story ends, but Mantel keeps the reader gripped through deft plotting and a vivid portrayal of Cromwell The King and Master Secretary Thomas Cromwell are the guests of the Seymour family at Wolf Hall. The King shares private moments with Jane Seymour, and begins to fall in love with her. His present queen, Anne Boleyn, has failed to give him a male heir and, as rumours of her infidelity spread, the King seeks a way to be rid of her, and marry the new object of his affections. Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell owe their current high status to each other. They become pitted against each other, as Cromwell seeks to find a legitimate excuse to expel her from the King's court. Cromwell, master politician, uses Anne's fall from grace as a chance to settle scores with old enemies. “ Mantel’s retelling is that she makes these events fresh and terrifying all over again” wrote Janet Maslin in her review of the book in the New York Times

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters