Can British woman make Booker history?

Winner of the 2009 Booker Prize for fiction Hilary Mantel is hoping to bag the prize again.Photo / AP
Winner of the 2009 Booker Prize for fiction Hilary Mantel is hoping to bag the prize again.Photo / AP

A British novelist could make literary history on Tuesday by becoming the first woman and the first British author to become a two-time winner of the acclaimed Booker Prize for fiction.

Hilary Mantel will find out if part two of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, Bring up the Bodies, takes home one of the highest profile awards in English-language literature at a ceremony at London's Guildhall.

"I've won the Booker once. Nobody, including me, expects a writer to do it twice," Mantel told BBC Radio.

"But it would not be human to not want to win," said Mantel, who was awarded the Booker in 2009 for Wolf Hall, the first of the historical fiction trilogy with King Henry VIII's chief minister as the protagonist.

She would become just the third writer to clinch the award twice since its inception in 1969, joining Australian author Peter Carey, who won in 1988 and 2001, and the South African J M Coetzee (1983 and 1999).

The Booker is awarded annually for the best work of fiction by an author from Britain, the Commonwealth or Ireland.

The prize is given for a specific book, rather than an author, and is evaluated by a group of judges who compile a longlist of novels, followed by a shortlist and then select the final winner.

"The new has come powering through" in this year's longlist of 12 novels, said Peter Stothard, editor of the Times Literary Supplement, who chairs the panel.

The same is true for the six-book shortlist, which recognises first novels from Indian poet Jeet Thayil and Britain's Alison Moore, who is known for her short stories.

British writers Will Self and Deborah Levy both make their debut on the Booker shortlist.

In contrast, Mantel was longlisted in 2005 for Beyond Black, while the sixth author, Malaysia's Tan Twan Eng, was longlisted in 2007 for his debut novel The Gift of Rain.

Bring up the Bodies is set in 1535 when Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII, fails to bear a son for the Tudor king.

"When I was writing it I was very much drawn into that poisoned, fraught, emotional atmosphere of the court," Mantel said on BBC's Radio 4.

"I felt in danger myself. I felt a kind of moral contamination creeping over me."

The six books on the shortlist, from which the winner will be chosen, develop common themes of old age, memory and loss.

However the subject matter could not vary more, with Thayil's Narcopolis set around a Bombay opium den in the 1970s and 1980s, while Self's Umbrella takes place in a London mental hospital where he uses non-linear and stream of consciousness narration to tell the story of a misdiagnosed woman.

The shortlisted authors will discuss their novels during a reading Monday, which will be broadcast for the first time in the prize's history in local British cinemas.

The Booker's five judges this year include academic and literary figures, as well as British actor Dan Stevens from the Emmy-award-winning television show Downtown Abbey.

SHORTLIST FOR THE 2012 BOOKER PRIZE:

- The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (Malaysia)

- Swimming Home by Deborah Levy (Britain)

- Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (Britain)

- The Lighthouse by Alison Moore (Britain)

- Umbrella by Will Self (Britain)

- Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil (Indian)

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