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Politicians and the Tower of London

Politicians and the Tower of London

Hilary Mantel’s 2009 Man Booker-winning Wolf Hall was recently named the best novel of the century in a Guardian poll. In an interview with the paper Dame Hilary, always wary of using the past as a direct counterpart to the present, nevertheless noted that the same questions preoccupy us now as in Thomas Cromwell’s time: “how to live, how to govern, how to mediate between the world as we find it and the world we would like to see”. We are smack bang in the middle of febrile times and “The resonances change day by day.” Prompted to suggest what Cromwell’s ultimately fatal story can teach today’s politicos she came up with rather a thrilling warning: “Be careful. You are no longer beheaded for your failures, but the Tower of London is still standing.”


Mantel also offered an insight on how working on adapting her novels for the stage has given her new ideas as a novelist. “Working on the theatre version was a fresh start in a new field,” she said, “and maybe helped sharpen up my scene-building skills as a novelist. It persuaded me that however complex your material, you can unfold it with clarity and energy.” This sort of procedural candour is rare. But the best novelists will always explore every option to make their books better.


The Garden Of Evening Mists by the Malaysian novelist Tan Twan Eng was a Man Booker shortlistee in 2012. He was pipped then by Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies. Eng is a charming chap so he won’t be gloating but the film adaption of the novel – a story of solitude and forbidden love in the aftermath of the Second World War – has just been nominated in nine categories at the forthcoming 56th Golden Horse Awards. The awards are for Chinese-language cinema and carry considerable weight, so winning is a big deal. The results will be revealed on 2 November.


Lucy Ellmann, one of this year’s Booker shortlistees, has just been selected as one of the six finalists in the running for the Goldsmiths Prize for experimental fiction, or, as the prize puts it, “fiction at its most novel”. Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport, a 1,000-page, paragraph-free monologue, would seem something of a shoo-in. Also on the list is the Booker longlisted The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy. Of course all prizes are welcome – writing novels is a tough and largely unrewarded job – but the demarcation lines between them can be confusing. The Booker’s simple aim, to select the best new fiction written in English, is perhaps the most straightforward and indeed all-encompassing. Fiction, experimental or not, whether written by a woman, a man or anything else (the 2009 longlist included a book supposedly written by a chimpanzee), simply has to excel. The experimental aspect of the Goldsmiths gong clearly got to the chair of judges, Erica Wagner (a former Man Booker judge). Ellmann’s book, she said, was notable for its “vast eidetic capaciousness”, which, put non-experimentally, means the book contains a great number of vivid images.