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Wild about Wolf Hall

Wild about Wolf Hall

‘How to describe the viewing nation’s response to the first instalment?’ asked John Sutherland of the initial television outing of Wolf Hall. His answer was short and sweet: ‘Mania.’ The former Man Booker Prize judge had good reasons for his statement. In the Guardian alone, as well as his episode-by-episode review, there were pieces by Zoe Williams and Mark Lawson, a reader survey asking ‘Is Wolf Hall the best historical drama ever?’ (this after only the first episode had been screened), articles defending Thomas More and another on Tudor tourist sites as well as a slew of assorted reviews and honourable mentions. The other broadsheets all went big on the topic too. As well as taking a grand overview, Prof Sutherland wasn't above minutiae: ‘I asked my dentist if the universally good teeth in the cast were unhistorical. No, he said. The mass importation of processed sugar is what did the damage. Skeletal evidence reveals that in the 16th century teeth were healthier than ours. Getting them knocked out (in a more personally violent society than ours) was the major risk. Mantel’s Cromwell would have lost a few to his father’s abuse, one imagines.’


Congratulations to Anne Enright, Man Booker winner in 2007 with The Gathering, who has just been named Laureate for Irish Fiction. The poet Paul Muldoon, who chaired the selection panel said of her: ‘Incisive, insightful, intellectually rapacious and emotionally rapt, Anne Enright has for almost 25 years helped the Irish make sense of their lives, from the nursery to the national debt. Through her varied and far-reaching fiction, she has also helped the rest of the world make sense of Irish life.’ Among the 34 names in the hat for the post were two other Man Booker winners, Roddy Doyle and John Banville. Enright's new role is far from honorary as she will be expected to carry out a roster of teaching, lecturing and curating duties to promote Irish fiction. She doesn't find the prospect overly daunting though and hopes to ‘have some fun along the way’.


Eleanor Catton, Man Booker winner in 2013, has found herself in hot water in her native New Zealand for suggesting that the land of the long white cloud suffered from tall poppy syndrome, that success overseas means ‘the local population can suddenly be very hard on you’ and that the country is run by ‘neo-liberal, profit-obsessed, very shallow, very money-hungry politicians who do not care about culture’. In the ensuing furore everyone from radio DJs to the Prime Minister John Key have jumped on Catton's case. She has her supporters though, among them the president of the New Zealand Society of Authors and the popstrel Lorde. Even though the fuss will die down soon enough Catton must be wondering what she's unleashed. Of course had she been living under Henry VIII – a time when, as Hilary Mantel puts it, ‘One mistake and you were finished’ – Catton would be languishing in the Tower of London by now awaiting a very grisly fate.


Salman Rushdie knows better than anyone the perils of free speech and he has been unwelcomely back in the news of late with the information that French police found material in support of the fatwa against the Man Booker-winning novelist on a computer belonging to one of the Charlie Hebdo terrorists. More cheering news for both him and his readers is that he has a new novel due out in the autumn. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights in September deals with ‘history, mythology, and a timeless love story to bring alive a world – our world – that has been plunged into an age of unreason’. The book comes a full seven years since his last novel but since we are smack bang in the middle of ‘an age of unreason’ it couldn't be more timely.