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.

Tags: Costa Prize, Hilary Mantel