The Man Booker Prize has gone to the author of The Luminaries, 28 year-old Eleanor Catton. The New Zealand novelist has the distinction of being the youngest ever recipient of the literary prize. The official announcement was made on Wednesday in London.
The winning book, The Luminaries, is Catton’s second novel. The 823 page book is said to be a “Kiwi” version of Twin Peaks. The story, set in 1866, has the backdrop of the New Zealand gold rush in an South island town and is a murder mystery. Catton’s winning the prize enabled her to set a few records.
Eleanor Catton not only has the distinction of being the youngest author to win the Man Booker Prize, but her novel, The Luminaries, is the longest to have ever won. She is also the only other New Zealand author to win the prize, the first being Keri Hulme in 1985 with her book, The Bone People. She will also be, according to prize judges, the “end of an era.” This will be the last year that the contest will only be open to the British Commonwealth and Ireland, beginning next year American authors can enter the competition.
The winning novel was said by judges to be “luminous” and a book that had a “tender heart.” Catton’s work was also described as “magnificent,” and Judge Robert Macfarlane said that the book’s structure was complex yet addictive. Macfarlane went on to say that Eleanor’s ability to dream up such a complex world of “greed and gold” was magical.
At the London ceremony, the author was given the Man Booker Prize trophy by Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall. She also received a cheque for $79,000.
Eleanor Catton is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and she has a masters degree in fiction writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters. Her first novel, titled The Rehearsal, was shortlisted in the Dylan Thomas Prize as well as the Guardian First Book Award; the book was also longlisted for the Orange Prize.
In the author’s home country, the novel has entered its fifth print run. Catton was actually born while her parents lived in Canada. When she was 6 years-old, she moved back with her family and settled in Christchurch New Zealand.
According to Catton’s New Zealand publisher, Fergus Barrowman of Victoria University Press, who was in London for the award, the country was thrilled about her winning the prize. In Britain, where the ceremony is organized and held, bookies actually had author Jim Crace as the favorite to win the competition with his novel Harvest.
Eleanor Catton began writing her novel when she was 25 years-old. Before winning the Man Booker Prize at 28, she was the youngest author to be shortlisted for the prize. She utilized astronomical charts as her starting point for her historical novel of greed, murder and gold. The author says that she has always loved reading and writing.
Other finalists included the bookies favorite Jim Crace for his novel Harvest and Jhumpa Lahiri for The Lowland. There were three runners up: NoViolet Bulawayo for We Need New Names; Ruth Ozeki for A Tale for the Time Being and three-time finalist Colm Toibin for The Testament of Mary.
Author Eleanor Catton has won the 45th Man Booker Prize for her New Zealand novel The Luminaries and made her home country proud. Her book has been described as a meshing of Herman Melville and Wilkie Collins that turned out a novel that was exciting and new.
By Michael Smith