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Weekly Roundup: Wolf Hall for Madam Premier and Man Booker must reads

Weekly Roundup: Wolf Hall for Madam Premier and Man Booker must reads

What do you give the wife of the man who has everything? If you are the Prime Minister, David Cameron, on an official visit to China and with a meeting with the premier’s wife to negotiate, you give Madam Premier a set of Man Booker winners, including naturally, a copy of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall – the definitive guide to negotiating political intrigues and high statecraft. Just saying…

The announcement of the Costa Prizes' all-woman shortlist for the fiction category has reignited debate about whether a gender specific prize such as the Women's Prize (formerly the Orange) is necessary any more. On each side of the current debate are two Man Booker grande dames, Antonia Fraser and Anne Enright. “The only reason for having a prize for one sex was that women weren't getting fair treatment”, said Lady Antonia (MB judge in 1971), and demonstrably they now are – step forward the last two MB winners, Hilary Mantel and Eleanor Catton. Not so, said Anne Enright (MB winner in 2007), women still get a poor deal in the books world and “maybe women should have a prize, just because they can”.

Donal Ryan (MB longlisted this year), fresh from winning the Guardian's First Book Award and in the running for the 2014 IMPAC Prize alongside fellow Man Bookeristes such as Hilary Mantel, Peter Carey, and Pat Barker, has just scooped another award. He has been named the latest “Limerick Person of the Month”. The award comes without the financial rewards of the other prizes but for a local boy is an honour itself (and he was given a nice glass vase).

Ryan also features in Marie Claire's list of 2013's 25 books “You HAVE [sic] to Read”. In fact it's a list that validates this year's MB jusdges. Eight of the 25 are MB books – alongside Ryan are Eleanor Catton, Ruth Ozeki, NoViolet Bulawayo, Jhumpa Jalhiri, Jim Crace, Charlotte Mendelson and, for some reason, Hilary Mantel. Mantel may have won the MB in 2012 but it is clear she's timeless.

In a piece discussing Isak Dinesen's 1934 book Seven Gothic Tales Margaret Atwood, MB winner in 2000, explained the difference between a “tale” and a short story. “In a 'tale', a woman may change into a monkey before our very eyes, as one does in the Dinesen tale, The Monkey; in a mainstream short story, she cannot . . . ‘Tales' have tellers and listeners within them, much more frequently than realistic stories do.” It is a nice and helpful distinction. Atwood, of course, knows the difference well – she was MB shortlisted in 1986 for The Handmaid's Tale. But then that is neither a “tale” nor a short story but a novel. A confusing business.