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Cromwell: A life less ordinary

Last week, Hilary Mantel was a critically praised but commercially lukewarm novelist, whose Tudor corridors-of-power saga Wolf Hall was receiving rave reviews for its vivid depiction of 16th-century England.

books Updated: Oct 15, 2009 18:32 IST

Last week, Hilary Mantel was a critically praised but commercially lukewarm novelist, whose Tudor corridors-of-power saga Wolf Hall was receiving rave reviews for its vivid depiction of 16th-century England. Then she won the Booker Prize, the career-changing literary award that attracts attention from bookies and bookstores alike. Overnight, she shot up best-seller lists in Britain and the United States. Now, says a bemused Mantel, "I"m chasing Sarah Palin on Amazon."

The $82,000 prize is a huge boost for a book that turns the historical figure of Thomas Cromwell - Henry VIII's shadowy political fixer into a compelling, complex literary hero. "It's one of those periods of history that is so good you couldn't make it up, really," Mantel said.

"I think it's the parade of the archetypes. We've all known people like these. We've all known some kind of saintly wife like Catherine of Aragon, whose career is wife as well as queen and who will hang on to a dead marriage. We've all known someone like Anne Boleyn, the mistress on the make. We've all known men like Henry, clinging onto his youth, denying that he's getting fat, denying that he's going bald."

Mantel said Cromwell is fascinating because he went from blacksmith's son to Earl of Essex, in this incredibly rigid, stratified, hierarchical society."