New Zealander Eleanor Catton the youngest Man Booker Prize winner

New Zealand celebrates as 28-year-old author of The Luminaries takes prestigious prize, with fans saying it's like winning Rugby World Cup

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 October, 2013, 3:43am


New Zealand author Eleanor Catton has become the youngest winner of the Man Booker Prize for The Luminaries, a novel set in her homeland in the 19th century that explores identity, greed and human frailty.

Champagne corks popped as New Zealanders celebrated the 28-year-old's win yesterday, with retailers reporting her book was "walking out the door".

New Zealand celebrates our sporting successes on the international stage with enormous vigour. We should be celebrating this with equal enthusiasm, as it's a truly remarkable achievement
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key

Looking stunned after being named the winner, Catton said her lengthy, complex novel was "a publisher's nightmare".

But she then thanked her publishers for striking the "elegant balance between making art and making money".

The presentation in London drew large crowds to bookshops in New Zealand, which screened the event live.

Prime Minister John Key led the tributes, moving a parliamentary vote congratulating Catton for becoming only the second New Zealander after Keri Hulme in 1985 to win the Booker.

"New Zealand celebrates our sporting successes on the international stage with enormous vigour," he told parliament. "We should be celebrating this with equal enthusiasm, as it's a truly remarkable achievement."

Bookworms at Unity Books in downtown Wellington heeded his advice, greeting the announcement with cheers as staff handed out champagne.

"We had one customer who said that this was more important for New Zealand than winning the Rugby World Cup," Unity's Todd Atticus said. "For our customers, the high-end literary types, that goes without saying."

Atticus said all signed and hardback copies of the novel had sold and added: "We're rapidly munching through our stock of trade paperbacks".

Catton topped a six-person shortlist that also included English writer Jim Crace, Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo, Indian-American author Jhumpa Lahiri, Canadian-American novelist Ruth Ozeki and Ireland's Colm Toibin.

Catton's publisher Fergus Barrowman, of Victoria University Press, praised the Booker judges' vision in selecting the 832-page novel, the longest to ever win the prize.

He said it was a "big, ambitious book written by a fearlessly intelligent and talented writer". Catton told the New Zealand Listener magazine this month that her second novel took three years to write and another two to research.

The Auckland-based writer said she had considered how the £50,000 (HK$619,217) winner's cheque and global exposure presented by the prize could change her life.

"What a sum of money this size means is that essentially it's a temptation to leave behind an earlier version of yourself," she said. "But it's a treacherous temptation because obviously, we can't do that at all."

This year's ceremony was the last before the award is opened to entries from the United States and beyond.

In September, the Booker Prize Foundation said that next year, the prize would be open to all novels written in English and published in Britain, whatever the nationality of the author.

That decision prompted hand-wringing from many in the literary world in Britain, who worried that the reconceived Booker would be limited in its potential to discover and anoint new and unknown authors.

Additional reporting by The New York Times