Hilary Mantels' novel Wolf Hall has been named as the winner of the inaugural Walter Scott prize for historical fiction sponsored by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch – distant descendants of Scott. As the organisers of Pages Ago, our own promotion of historical reading of all sorts, we have had a particular interest in following the development of this prize.
Our very supportive partner from Manchester University, Jerome de Groot, published a piece in The Scotsman on Saturday to coincide with the prize -winner announcement. His article entitled The new time-travellers says "Historical fiction works by presenting something familiar but simultaneously distant from our lives. Its world must have heft and authenticity – it must feel right – but at the same time, the reader knows that the novel is a representation of something that is lost, that cannot be reconstructed but only guessed at. This dissonance, it seems to me, lies at the heart of historical fiction and makes it one of the most interesting genres around."
While delighted that one of our launch speakers, Sarah Dunant, was also on the shortlist, I can't admit to being surprised that Wolf Hall was the eventual winner. The sheer scale and scope of the novel is impressive and it seems to be written with such authority and concern for historical detail that it seems to be in a class of its own. At the same time it demonstrates the complex humanity of its central characters, which is needed to make all that detail so readable.
Other Bloggers have already been busy commenting on this win, notably Sarah Johnson on the excellent Blog Reading the Past
It must be clear by now that Hilary Mantel has performed a tremendous service to the "genre" historical novel. Particularly by winning the ManBooker 2009 prize, Wolf Hall must have been read and discussed by everyone who considers that they must keep up with their reading of literary fiction, as well as by 1000s of other "ordinary" readers. Certainly it makes our promotion of a wider range of historical reading of all sorts, seem very timely.
Jane was the co-ordinator of Time To Read, a partnership of people working in public libraries in NW England, to develop the audience for reading.
She retired in August 2015 and is now very busy doing other things.