Wolf Hall author Hilary Mantel dies aged 70

Dame Hilary Mantel, the acclaimed Booker Prize-winning author whose bestselling Wolf Hall trilogy redefined historical fiction, has died suddenly at the age of 70.

Mantel’s publisher HarperCollins announced it was “heartbroken at the death of our beloved author”, who passed “suddenly yet peacefully” with her close family and friends at her side.

Mantel’s blockbuster Wolf Hall series, recounting the unlikely rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell from blacksmith’s son to Tudor powerbroker, rejuvenated the genre of historical fiction, bringing her critical plaudits, global fame and runaway sales.

The novels were adapted for television and secured Mantel two Man Booker prizes for Wolf Hall in 2009 and Bring Up the Bodies in 2012, making her the first woman to win the award twice.

Fans queued through the night to buy the final instalment of the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, when it was published in 2020. The series sold almost 2mn copies in the UK alone, according to Nielsen BookScan.

Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell in the BBC adaptation of ‘Wolf Hall’ © BBC Worldwide/Alamy

HarperCollins said Mantel was “one of the greatest English novelists of this century”. “Her beloved works are considered modern classics. She will be greatly missed,” the publisher added.

Mantel was a prolific author, publishing 16 books ranging across historical fiction, memoir and black comedy. She also kept more than 100 volumes of unpublished diaries.

Her literary breakthrough came in 1988 with Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, her third novel, which was based on her experiences living in Saudi Arabia, but only with Wolf Hall did Mantel begin to reach a mass audience.

She saw her historical fiction as different from the craft of a historian, comparing her writing to “a painting with the brushstrokes in . . . you wouldn’t mistake it for a living person”.

Some of Mantel’s other titles include A Place of Greater Safety, which follows the travails of three French revolutionaries from their youth through to the Reign of Terror, and The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher.

Her memoir Giving up the Ghost recounted some of her chronic health struggles and a decade-long battle as a young woman with undiagnosed endometriosis. Earlier this month she described her health as “unpredictable” and “a daily source of tension”.

Nicholas Pearson, the editor of many of Mantel’s books, described her loss as “unbearable”.

“Only last month I sat with her on a sunny afternoon in Devon, while she talked excitedly about the new novel she had embarked on,” he said. “That we won’t have the pleasure of any more of her words is unbearable. What we do have is a body of work that will be read for generations.”

Mantel had a life-long fascination with the supernatural and in a recent interview with the Financial Times was asked whether she believed in an afterlife.

“Yes. I can’t imagine how it might work,” she said. “However, the universe is not limited by what I can imagine.”

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