I am hoping that Santa might bring me Hilary Mantel's "Bring Up The Bodies" on Christmas morning so I haven't yet read the 2012 Mann Booker prize winner. But - on the ball and up-top-the-mark as always - I have recently put down her previous winner, "Woolf Hall," with a sigh of satisfaction. What a splendid book and a worthy winner of the God-knows-how-many-quids that come as the prize! (Actually, I've just looked it up and the award is £50,000.)
Hilary won the much-covetted prize in 2009, of course, and I can't help reflecting that "Woolf Hall" is a far better novel than either of the two that followed it: Howard Jacobson's "The Finkler Question" in 2010 and Julian Barnes's "The Sense of an Ending" in 2011.
I admire both of these latter two writers. Barnes brings a depth of intellect to his work that staggered and intrigued me when I read his first novel, "Flaubert's Parrot" all those years ago, and Jacobson has a wit that always delights me when he appears on the box. Yet their winning novels disappointed me. I could never quite work out what sense of an ending Barnes was trying to depict and H.J.'s book - much vaunted as the first humourous novel to win the Booker - failed to raise a smile with me.
But Mantel! Ah, now there's a story!! Her story telling is direct, incorporating pace and a sinuous development of character; her dialogue is a delight, overcoming the historical novelist's problem of period speech simply by using straightforward modern language but seamlessly weaving in the odd Tudor phrase or term; and her scholarship makes you never question each seemingly unbelievable twist of the plot.
The book set standards for the Mann Booker competition that seemed to slip away in the following two years. Judging from the reviews I have read, "Bring Up the Bodies" should restore them. Three cheers for the old fashioned historical novel!
A very happy Christmas and a splendid book-filled 2013 to all the readers of this all-too-occasional blog.