Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies wins Costa Book of the Year

29 January 2013

Hilary Mantel has won the Costa Book Award of the Year for Bring up the Bodies.

It saw off contenders: Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner (the children’s book winner), The Innocents by Francesca Segal (the first novel award), The Overhaul by Kathleen Jamie (the poetry prize) and Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary and Bryan Talbot (winner of the best biography award, and the first graphic work to win a Costa prize).


Mantel collected the prize fund of £30,000.

Mantel’s win means that she has also secured a ‘literary treble’: Bring Up the Bodies has won the Booker Prize, the Costa Novel Award and Costa Book of the Year. This achievement is worthy of this extraordinary book. I can’t improve on Tudor historian Nicola Shulman’s Spectator review:

‘Was he [Thomas Cromwell] the originator or just the executor of the plot, acting on the King’s instructions? This is where we look to Mantel. Not for the truth in the literal sense; but for an explanation to bind up the contradictions and fill the empty spaces in the story, to satisfy our objections, to furnish the lost conversations which make sense of the mystery. We know her to be capable of this. In her historical fiction, the rubble of research is ground to a dust so fine that it settles into every phrase, every glance and gesture, so that we seem really to see through eyes that opened on the late 15th century.’  

Some critics of Mantel complain that her prose is too dense. Mantel is an acquired taste; but, for me, the density of her prose is an outward sign of the book’s inward strength. The reader is immersed in the rich product of hour upon hour spent in libraries, and hour upon hour spent refining the material.

The steady cascade of knowledge had a remarkable effect on me as I read. I didn’t need to suspend disbelief and imagine; I was there, with Cromwell – scheming and surviving. I’ve read historical novels that are more captivating than Bring Up The Bodies, but I don’t recall any being quite so real, even Wolf Hall. Bring on the sequel, in which Cromwell must finally die.

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  • Eddie

    That Mantel wins ANY prize is a travesty, and makes a mockery of the whole award system. Historical novels should be banned from entry to any general prize, because those who write them have zero imagination and just plunder story-lines, characters and dramas from history.
    However pretty Mantel’s prose, her books are just write-up of her history notes, ultimately – and I also suspect a great deal of backscratching in the judges of the Booker and this prize too (nothing new in that though in the corrupt dodgy croneyistic world of publishing).
    Perhaps we need book prizes to be like Oscars for scripts. Mantel and others who filch everything from historical research can be up for tha ‘adapted novel’ award, thus leaving the ‘original novel’ awards only to those storytellers with imagination?

    • David

      Didn’t Shakespeare “plunder story-lines, characters and dramas from history”? Rather depends how well you write, doesn’t it?

  • rndtechnologies786

    Good thought.

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