Book industry figures have paid tribute to “one of the greatest novelists of her generation”, Dame Hilary Mantel, following the death of the Wolf Hall trilogy author at the age of 70.
Mantel, who had written 17 books during her career and had just started a new novel, died “suddenly and peacefully” on September 22 surrounded by close family and friends.
Bill Hamilton, her agent at literary agency AM Heath, said: “Her wit, stylistic daring, creative ambition and phenomenal historical insight mark her as one of the greatest novelists of our time.
“She will be remembered for her tremendous generosity to other budding writers, her ability to electrify a live audience, and the wide range of her journalism and criticism, which produces some of the finest commentary on issues and books.”
Nicholas Pearson, former publishing director of Fourth Estate and longtime editor of Mantel, said: “As a person, Hilary was kind, generous and loving, always a great advocate for other authors. It was a pleasure working with her. Just last month I sat with her on a sunny afternoon in Devon as she excitedly talked about the new novel she had started. It is unbearable that we no longer get to enjoy their words. What we have is a work that will be read for generations. We have to be thankful for that. I will miss her and my thoughts are with her husband Gerald.”
Bea Carvalho, Head of Fiction at Waterstones, called Mantel “one of the greatest novelists of her generation, or of any generation for that matter,” adding, “She leaves behind a body of work that readers will cherish for years to come. Her genre-defining novels set the standard for historical fiction and fiction in general, and her impact on the genre as a whole is immeasurable. It was a great honor for us to celebrate Hilary Mantel with a very special event The mirror & the light (Fourth Estate) in March 2020, whose happy memories carried us all through the difficult first lockdown. She will be greatly missed by booksellers and readers everywhere, but we will remember her fondly for her wisdom, warmth and generosity, and will find solace in her brilliant words. Our thoughts are with her family.”
Caroline Michel, managing director of the literary agency PFD, explains The Bookseller: “The death of Hilary Mantel is a great tragedy, but the first thing one wants to do is revisit this extraordinary library of novels – this rich tapestry of works that transcends Wolf Hall and 40 years of amazing writing and great books includes . These books, this writing and Mantel’s words will stand.”
Mantel was the only British author to win the Booker Prize twice – for Wolf Hall in 2009 and its sequel Bring up the bodies 2012, both published by Fourth Estate.
Gaby Wood, Director of the Booker Prize Foundation, narrates The Bookseller Mantel’s death was “a terrible shock”. “Our first and most heartfelt thoughts are with her husband, Gerald McEwen,” she said. “She was loved dearly by everyone here at the Booker, an award she judged long before she was shortlisted Beyond Black and won with the first two volumes of her Wolf Hall trilogy, the last of which was also nominated.
“She was tirelessly generous to other writers. Her succinct praise lives on on many book covers, drawing readers toward work they might otherwise not have met.
“In her own work she was surrounded by a loyal team of supporters and collaborators – Gerald, her agent Bill Hamilton, her editor Nicholas Pearson – without whom, it was clear, her books could not exist. And she moved into a new realm with her usual intellectual greed, having spent the best of two decades with Thomas Cromwell.
“It is hard to imagine that we will hear nothing more of her brilliant mind: her blend of mischievousness, imagination, erudition and literary prowess is truly incomparable – and her influence is immeasurable.”
In addition to the Booker, her long list of award wins has included winning the Walter Scott Prize twice, e.g Wolf Hall and again for the third part of the trilogy The mirror & the light. The award’s founders and judges said in a statement they were “extremely saddened” to learn of her death.
They said: “As a warm, gracious and generous winner, she has always praised her fellow shortlisted writers and provided invaluable support and advice to the young writers she has met through the Young Walter Scott Prize. She leaves behind quite an extraordinary body of work, but is perhaps best remembered for her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, which the Walter Scott Prize jury called “a masterpiece”.
“Hilary Mantel’s loss to the literary world as a whole is enormous, and the loss to the historical novel even greater. Few writers will ever match their insight or imagination. She was that rare thing, a genius. How we will miss her.”
Other authors also paid tribute to her, with Elizabeth Day saying literature has “lost one of its brightest lights” and JK Rowling calling her “a genius”. Margaret Atwood said so Guardian: “It was always a pleasure to read from such a smart, nimble, careful, thoughtful author, who has such a grasp of the dark and spidery corners of human nature – and it was a pleasure to review her, too, which I did both.” early as well as did late. A place of greater security was an eye-opener about the French Revolution, and the Cromwell Trilogy was a well-known craze. She never shied away from the difficult people and distributed a bit of redemption for even the most stubborn cases. What could she have written next? I don’t know, but I will miss it.”
Mantel was also a “supportive and dedicated” president of the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival, the event’s team said. “She was so committed that despite her plans to move to Ireland she had intended to remain President,” they said. “We will miss her beyond measure. The world has lost an extremely talented writer and a warm, generous woman. Budleigh Salterton has lost a friend. Our hearts go out to her husband Gerald at this very sad time.”