By Dennis Abrams
New Zealand author Eleanor Catton, at the age of just 28, has become the younger ever winner of the Man Booker Prize for her novel The Luminaries (Little, Brown and Company). (The 828 page book is also the longest novel to win in the prizes 40-year history.)
When it was shortlisted last month (along with works by NoViolet Bulawayo, Jim Crace, Jhumpa Lahiri, Ruth Ozeki and Colm Toibin), judges described the book, a Victorian mystery story set during the New Zealand gold rush and structured according to astrological charts as a “Kiwi Twin Peaks.” And with the win, judges were unstinting in their praise.
“It’s a dazzling work. It’s a luminous work. It is vast without being sprawling,” said Robert Macfarlane, chair of the judges, as quoted by BBC News. “You begin it and you think you are in the clutches of a big baggy monster,” adding that what follows is an “accelerating, quickening tilt to the narrative.”
“We have returned to it three times now and we have dug into it — to use its own metaphors — and the yield it has offered at each new reading has been extraordinary. One can approach this as a murder mystery with séances, corpses, lawsuits and puzzles. It does require investment…but it operates like the best kind of goldmine. You pan and the yields are huge.”
Macfarlane added, referring to the book’s prodigious length, “Those of us who didn’t read it on e-readers enjoyed a full upper body work-out.” (Accepting her award, Catton thanked her editors, saying, “The Luminaries was, from the start, a publisher’s nightmare.”
BBC News also cited Jonathan Ruppin, web editor for Foyles, who said, “For those who are simply looking for a great story, the murder mystery at the heart of the book is thoroughly gripping and that alone should ensure very strong sales.”
“But there is much more to it than that: a vivid cast of characters who leap from the page, a joyful celebration of language and some remarkable experiments with the underlying process of novel-writing; critics who have dismissed it as a pastiche of 19th-century fiction have scarcely scratched the surface.
“Catton is a writer of rare insight and intelligence, who is at the vanguard of the evolution of the novel.
“I am confident that she is destined to be one of the most important and influential writers of her generation.”