Wolf Hall author takes home Booker prize

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A tale of political intrigue set during the reign of King Henry VIII won the prestigious Man Booker prize for fiction on Tuesday (Wednesday Beijing time).

Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall scooped the 50,000-pound ($80,000) prize. Mantel's novel charts the upheaval caused by the king's desire to marry Anne Boleyn, as seen through the eyes of royal advisor Thomas Cromwell.

Mantel's novel beat stiff competition from a shortlist that included previous Booker winners A.S. Byatt and J.M. Coetzee.

Mantel told a London audience that if winning the Booker Prize was like being in a train crash, "at this moment I am happily flying through the air".

The chairman of the Booker prize judges, James Naughtie, said the decision to give Wolf Hall the award was "based on the sheer bigness of the book. The boldness of its narrative, its scene setting ... The extraordinary way that Hilary Mantel has created what one of the judges has said was a contemporary novel, a modern novel, which happens to be set in the 16th century."

Wolf Hall depicts the chaos that results from the king's longing for a male heir - a desire that led him to leave his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, for Anne Boleyn. The Vatican's refusal to annul the marriage led the king to reject the authority of the pope and install himself as head of the Church of England.

The book centers on the real-life figure of Cromwell, depicted as a ruthless but compelling polymath straining against the certainties of his age.

Mantel said Cromwell was the king's "chief fixer, spin doctor, propagandist for one of the most eventful decades of English history".

Mantel, 57, is a former social worker and film critic who has written short stories, the memoir Giving Up the Ghost and novels including 2005's Beyond Black, which was shortlisted for a Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction.

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