Eleanor Catton, the 28-year old author from New Zealand has won the Man Booker prize 2013 for her novel, The Luminaries, published by Granta.
She is not only the youngest novelist to win the coveted literary prize, but has set a new record for the longest winning novel. The Luminaries is 852 pages.
The prize was announced by Robert Macfarlane, Chair of the panel of judges, live on BBC News from London’s Guildhall. The Duchess of Cornwall presented Ms. Catton with a trophy, and Emmanuel Roman, Chief Executive of Man presented her with a cheque for £50,000.
Ms. Catton is also the last winner of the Booker prize that is presently confined to writers from the Commonwealth countries and Ireland. From next year, the prize will be opened up to writers from all countries.
The Luminaries is a murder mystery set in New Zealand during the gold-rush of the late 19 century, with astrology a running theme through the book. It was described by Mr. Macfarlane in his announcement speech as being “animated by a weird struggle between compulsion and conversion: within its pages, men and women proceed according to their fixed fates, while gold – as flakes, nuggets, coins and bars – ceaselessly shifts its shapes around them.”
Despite its size, the book is “as intricately structured as an orrery. Each section is half the length of its predecessor, right down to the final, astonishing pages,” Mr. Macfarlane said.
The judges returned to the book three times, he said, and it took just under two hours to decide on the winner. “We have dug into it and the yield it has offered at each new reading has been extraordinary.”
Ms. Catton described her immediate reaction to the news of her win as seeing a “white wall,” even as she searched her bag – she had bought a new one as her book would not fit into the old one – for the piece of paper on which she had written her acceptance speech.
“With The Luminaries I had a question that I wanted to ask, and the question led me in my research from book to book, and in my writing from scene to scene, and I still do not feel that I have answered the question in a definitive sense, but the book is the answer to that question,” Ms. Catton said at the post-event press conference.
The question, she said, “has to do with self-knowledge, and the degree to which the knowledge of your own destiny corrupts a person. A lot of the characters in the book are engaged with their own past.”
Ms. Catton was just 25 when she started writing The Luminaries, her second novel. Her debut novel The Rehearsal (2008) was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Dylan Thomas Prize, and longlisted for the Orange Prize. She is the second New Zealander to win the Booker, after Keri Hulme for The Bone People in 1985.
This year’s shortlist for the prize has been described as among the best in the Booker’s history. It included Harvest, by Jim Crace; The Last Testament of Mary, a 100-page novella by Colm Toibin; A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki; The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri; and We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.
Eleanor Catton was born in Canada and raised in New Zealand. She currently lives in Auckland.