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Mistaking Mantel

Mistaking Mantel

In an interview in the latest edition of New Statesman Hilary Mantel recalls the comic side of last year's Duchess of Cambridge furore. To refresh minds: in the course of a long and discursive lecture at the British Museum the double Man Booker winner made a couple of comments about our future queen that were taken to be slighting (largely by people who didn't attend the lecture itself or read the transcript). The resulting fuss led, for a nanosecond, for calls for Mantel's head. It didn't bother the imperturbable author though: “It was very funny to have press camped out across the road in our quiet seaside town, and if the pressmen saw any fat woman of a certain age walking along the street, they ran after her shouting, 'Are you Hilary?'”

The New Statesman issue that carries the interview is in fact a bit of a school reunion for Man Booker writers and judges: the Mantel interview is written by Erica Wagner, one of this year's judges; there is a piece on Samuel Beckett by John Banville (Man Booker winner in 2005); a review by Frances Wilson (Man Booker judge 2010); and articles by Adam Foulds (Man Booker shortlisted 2009), Will Self (Man Booker shortlisted 2012), and David Baddiel (Man Booker judge 2002). While the magazine is edited by Jason Cowley (Booker judge 1997).

Rachel Seiffert (Man Booker shortlisted in 2001 with The Dark Roomhas a new novel coming out, The Walk Home. Her interview manner though is in sharp contrast to Mantel's: “In interviews I’ve read,” said a recent inquisitor, “she comes across as guarded. 'Interviews are very artificial situations,' she [Seiffert] says, so I ask what she’s knitting with the needles and wool that were on the table when I arrived: 'A sock.'” Ah, the glamour of journalism and the novelist's life.

It is 25 years since the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie (Booker winner 1981) for writing The Satanic VersesIan McEwan (Booker winner 1998) poignantly recalls a dinner party he held for the beleaguered novelist at his Gloucestershire cottage, and “standing the next morning with Salman in the country kitchen, a grey English morning, and he was the lead item on the BBC – another Middle East figure saying he too would condemn him to death. It was a very sad moment – standing buttering toast and listening to that awful message on the radio.”

John Banville has been weighing up the benefits of having his work turned into a film. The Sea (Man Booker winner 2005) is soon to hit the cinema and the author, who also worked on the screenplay, has enjoyed the experience: “You subject people to your dream for two hours in this dark space, it is an extraordinary thing. Publishing books is no comparison.” But the best bit? Banville, with more than a hint of a crush, didn't have to think long: “To have Charlotte Rampling speaking my words was a great thrill.”

The Telegraph newspaper has a strange obsession with lists and its latest offering is ‘The 20 Best British Novels of All Time’ – hastily amended to ‘British and Irish’ when they realised James Joyce and John Banville were not Brits (and Henry James took British nationality in only the last year of his life). Nevertheless, Banville's The Sea features as does Iris Murdoch's 1978 Booker winner (which doubles Banville's title) The Sea, The Sea, and Mantel's Wolf Hall, which, for consistency's sake should really have been called The Sea, The Sea, The Sea. Also on the list is Jilly Cooper's Riders.