Bookies’ favourite Hilary Mantel scooped the Man Booker Prize for Fiction tonight for her “demanding” novel about Henry VIII’s adviser Thomas Cromwell.
Set in the 1520s – and also described as “hard work” by judges – 'Wolf Hall' tells the story of Cromwell’s rise to prominence in the Tudor court.
The book won by a secret narrow majority vote of three to two after more than three hours’ deliberation, which Ion Trewin, literary director of the Booker Prizes said was not an unusual divide.
Mantel’s work was picked from a shortlist of literary heavyweights including Sarah Waters, AS Byatt and JM Coetzee – who could have been the first person to win the prize three times.
Bookmaker William Hill had Mantel as odds-on favourite to win the award at 10/11 – the shortest odds it has ever given a book to win the prize.
Mr Trewin said the last time a favourite walked off with the prize was Yann Martel’s Life of Pi in 2002, which went on to shift more than one million copies in the UK and the Commonwealth.
He said: “Everybody says: ’Oh the favourites never win’. This year, it has.”
Mr Trewin said sales of the longlist and shortlist had rocketed “much more so than any previous year”.
He said the prize was set up to reward quality, but also to sell books.
Mr Trewin added: “And there’s nothing wrong with commerce as well as art.”
‘Wolf Hall’ has already sold 48,000 copies, according to UK publishing figures.
Last year’s gong went to Aravind Adiga for ‘The White Tiger’, which has shifted more than half a million copies in the UK.
South African author Coetzee made the shortlist with his fictionalised memoir ‘Summertime’, while Waters was in the running for her novel The Little Stranger.
Completing the shortlist were Simon Mawer’s ‘The Glass Room’, Adam Foulds’s ‘The Quickening Maze’ and Byatt’s ‘The Children’s Book’.
Mantel, 57, spent five years writing ‘Wolf Hall’ and is currently working on a sequel.
Born in Glossop, Derbyshire, she worked as a social worker before living in Botswana and Saudi Arabia, returning to Britain in the mid-1980s.
Her triumph marks the first time the publisher Fourth Estate has had a Man Booker Prize winner.
Peter Clarke, chief executive of Man Group presented Mantel with her £50,000 (€54.5m) cheque.
Chairman of judges James Naughtie described the debate as “passionate, good humoured and in the end decisive”.
He said the book demands “hard work”, but given the attention that it deserves you get “fantastic rewards”.
“I think it’s a challenging book,” he said. “You have to give it energy ... things don’t come on a plate ... It’s big and it demands concentration.”
He said judges emerged from their decision with “a mixture of exhilaration and exhaustion”.
Mantel was herself a judge for the prize in 1990 when Byatt’s ‘Possession’ won.
Janine Cook, Waterstone’s fiction buyer described Mantel as the “perfect winner”.
She said: “It’s already the sales winner from the shortlist, and we expect it to become Waterstone’s bestselling Booker winner ever.”
‘Wolf Hall’ has also accounted for 45% of the total sales of shortlisted titles on Amazon.co.uk since the books were announced at the beginning of September.