Eleanor Catton, the author of “The Luminaries,” made history on Tuesday as the youngest person to win the Man Booker Prize. The 28-year-old, who was born in Canada and raised in New Zealand, began the book, which is a murder mystery set during New Zealand’s 1866 gold rush, when she was 25 and finished it two years later, reports said.
Robert Macfarlane, chairman of the judges, called the book a “dazzling work, luminous, vast” and “extraordinarily gripping.”
“The characters are in New Zealand to make and to gain — the one thing that disrupts them is love,” he said, according to CNN. “Maturity is evident in every sentence, in the rhythms and balances. It is a novel of astonishing control.”
Accepting the award in London on Tuesday night, Catton thanked her publishers — Granta in Britain and Little, Brown and Company in the United States — for backing her.
“The Luminaries was, from the start, a publisher’s nightmare,” Catton said. The book, at 848 pages, is the longest ever to win the Booker Prize, leading Catton to joke during the acceptance ceremony that she had to buy a new handbag to fit her book.
Catton is only the second New Zealander to win the Man Booker Prize, which is awarded annually to a novelist from Britain, Ireland or a Commonwealth country, after Keri Hulme won it for “The Bone People” in 1985. The winner receives £50,000, or about $80,000.
In an interview with The Guardian, Catton explained that because of her youth, the book was at the receiving end of some “bullying” in New Zealand. “People whose negative reaction has been most vehement have all been men over about 45,” she said.
“One of those things that you learn in school about any kind of bullying is that it’s always more to do with them than it is to do with you. I don’t see that my age has anything to do with what is between the covers of my book, any more than the fact that I am right-handed. It’s a fact of my biography, but it’s uninteresting.”