28th September, 2022
By Nehru Odeh
Dame Hilary Mantel was a writer who chose life in the face of tribulations and death. Though the author of Giving Up the Ghost (her memoir) gave up the ghost on 23 September 2022 at 70, her resilience and indeed steely determination to succeed in spite of the numerous challenges she faced, make her a study in determination and a fodder for motivational speakers.
Still, the remarkable thing about this multiple award-winning writer, who had a knack for writing masterpieces was that she succeeded as a writer when no one gave her a chance.
She never saw her father after the age of 11, when her parents separated. Mantel, the name she was known with and which she made famous was neither her maiden nor marital name. It was her stepfather’s name. When her father abandoned his family, her mother remarried and she officially took Mantel as hell surname.
When Mantel was in her twenties she had a debilitating and painful illness and was initially diagnosed with a psychiatric illness, hospitalized and treated with antipsychotic drugs, whichreportedly produced psychotic symptoms.
However, it was in Botswana that, after consulting a medical textbook, she realized that she was probably suffering from a severe form of endometriosis, s diagnosis that was later confirmed by doctors in London.
The condition which later necessitated a surgery – a surgical menopause at the age of 27 – left her unable to have children and continued to disrupt her life.
She later said: You’ve thought your way through questions of fertility and menopause and what it means to be without children because it all happened catastrophically”.
Rather than lament about her condition, she turned it into fortune. She used the problematized woman’s body as a trope in most of her novels. She later became patron of the Endometriosis SHE Trust
Still, in spite of those daunting challenges, Mantel took up the mantle and became one of the most decorated writers in the history of the Booker Prize.
And her illustrious career as a writer saw her awarded with numerous honours, including being made a same – the famale equivalent of a knight- by Queen Elizabeth in 2014.
Her achievements are legion. She was writer of historical fiction who became not just a bestselling writer but also the only female to have won the Booker twice for two novels that are parts of a trilogy, first for Wolf Hall and second for its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, which also won the 2012 Costa Book of the Year.
Wolf Hall, a novel about the life of Thomas Cromwell, later made it to TV screens and became a hit West End show.
The Mirror and the Light, the third novel in the trilogy, was also longlisted for the Booker in 2021. It later won the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.
The trilogy, which charts the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell in the court of King Henry VIII, has been translated into 41 languages, with sales of more than five million worldwide.
It was later adapted for the stage and screen, with the Royal Shakespeare Company putting on productions of the first two books in 2013 and in 2021 The Mirror & the Light was staged in London, having been adapted by Dame Hilary, with Ben Miles playing Cromwell.
The BBC also adapted the story into a TV series which was first broadcast on BBC Two in 2015, starring Sir Mark Rylance as Cromwell, and later won three Bafta awards and a Golden Globe.
Still, another outstanding thing about Mantel, her multiple awards notwithstanding, is that she was a Booker Prize judge in 2009, the year A.S Byatt’s Possession won the prize. And she herself went ahead from being a judge to win that highly coveted prize twice.