It’s not often that someone accepts one of the most prestigious literary prizes in the world by comparing it to a bus.
“You wait 20 years for a Booker Prize, and two come along at once,” Hilary Mantel joked after taking the stage in London on Tuesday night to accept the 2012 Man Booker Prize for “Bring Up the Bodies,” the second novel in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy.
Mantel also won the Booker for the first book in the series, “Wolf Hall,” in 2009. She is the first woman to be a two-time winner of the prize, Britain’s most prestigious award for literary fiction. The winner receives about $80,000.
“Wolf Hall,” praised for its lively evocation of the vicious intrigue of the court of Henry VIII, was a critical and commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic. “Bring Up the Bodies” has followed suit; the L.A. Times wrote that it is “more than the equal of its predecessor when it comes to intensity and drama.”
In “Bring Up the Bodies,” Mantel demonstrates a gift for the deliciously gory detail. This is her Cromwell on the doomed Anne Boleyn: “The colours should have had a fresh maidenly charm; but all he could think of were stretched innards, umbles and tripes, grey-pink intestines looped out of a living body ... slit up and galloched by the hangman. ... The pearls around her long neck looked to him like beads of fat, and as she argued she would reach up and tug them; he kept his eyes on her fingertips, nails flashing like tiny knives.”
Before the awards were announced, author and journalist Will Self, shortlisted for the first time for his novel “Umbrella,” was thought to have been the favorite.
Dan Stevens — who in addition to playing Cousin Matthew on “Downton Abbey,” writes a column for the British newspaper the Telegraph and is an editor of the online journal the Junket — served as one of the Booker judges. To make their decision, they read 145 books.
“It’s been a slog, but an enjoyable one,” Stevens told the BBC before the announcement. “You have to read them all the way through to make the right critical argument.”
The other four books in the running included two by first-time novelists, “The Lighthouse” by Alison Moore and “Narcopolis” by Jeet Thayil, plus Tan Twan Eng’s “The Garden of Evening Mists” and Deborah Levy’s “Swimming Home.”
Recent winners of the award include Julian Barnes for “The Sense of an Ending,” Howard Jacobson for “The Finkler Question,” Aravind Adiga for “The White Tiger” and Anne Enright for “The Gathering.”
“I have to do something very difficult now. I have to go away and write the third part of the trilogy,” Mantel said. She acknowledged that she didn’t expect to find herself on the Booker stage again but concluded, “I regard this as an act of faith and a vote of confidence.”