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Fiction's Booker Prize Goes to Hilary Mantel

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Associated Press
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 Tuesday.

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Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" scooped up the $80,000 prize, announced in London. The prize goes to a novel written in English by a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland or Zimbabwe. Mantel's novel beat stiff competition from a shortlist that included previous Booker winners A.S. Byatt and J.M. Coetzee.

The chairman of the judges, James Naughtie, said the decision was "based on the sheer bigness of the book. The boldness of its narrative, its scene setting . . . the extraordinary way that Hilary Mantel has created what one of the judges has said was a contemporary novel, a modern novel, which happens to be set in the 16th century."

Also announced this week was the Thurber Prize for American Humor, won by Ian Frazier for his lighthearted book on parental guidance, "Lamentations of the Father."

Mantel's novel charts the upheaval caused by Henry VIII's desire to have a male heir, thereby leaving 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 drama is seen through the eyes of royal adviser Thomas Cromwell, depicted as a ruthless but compelling polymath straining against the certainties of his age.

Mantel, 57, said it's no surprise that people remain fascinated by the time of Henry VIII -- the period "has sex and melodrama, betrayal, seduction and violent death. What more could you hope for?"

The Nobel Prize in literature will be awarded Thursday.

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