British writer Hilary Mantel was named one of six finalists for the prestigious Booker literary prize on Tuesday for Bring up the Bodies, a tale of politics and passion at the court of King Henry VIII. The novel is a sequel to Wolf Hall, which won the 50,000 pound ($82,000) prize in 2009. The books follow the king’s right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell, as he tries to keep his influence — and his head — in treacherous Tudor power circles.
Bookmakers immediately made Mantel one of the favorites to win the prize. Betting firm William Hill ranked her at 2/1, behind Umbrella, a century-spanning stream of consciousness by Britain’s Will Self.
The prize, which brings a big boost in publicity and sales for the winner, is open to writers from Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth of former British colonies.
The finalists, selected from a 12-book long list, include novels set in post-World War II Asia — The Garden of Evening Mists, by Malaysia’s Tan Twan Eng — and Mumbai opium dens, in Narcopolis by India’s Jeet Thayil.
Three books by British writers round out the list. They are Self’s Umbrella; Swimming Home, a portrait of the devastation wreaked by depression by South Africa-born Deborah Levy; and Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse, about a British man’s life-changing holiday in Germany.
Founded in 1969, the Booker always brings a blaze of literary debate. Last year’s jury, which gave the prize to Julian Barnes for The Sense of an Ending, was accused of dumbing down after the chair of the panel said finalists had been chosen for “readability.”
This year’s list appears more adventurous. Only Mantel has been a finalist before and Self is a relentlessly modernist experimenter, while Tan, Levy and Moore are all published by small independent publishers.
Peter Stothard, editor of the Times Literary Supplement and head of the judging panel, said “the pure power of prose” had been the deciding factor in choosing the finalists. “We loved the shock of language shown in so many different ways and were exhilarated by the vigor and vividly defined values in the six books that we chose,” he said.
The award is officially known as the Man Booker Prize after its sponsor, financial services firm Man Group PLC. The winner will be announced Oct. 16.