October 16, 2013

Eleanor Catton wins Man Booker Prize


Eleanor Catton. (Olivia Harris/Reuters)

Eleanor Catton has won the prestigious Man Booker Prize for The Luminaries. At 28, the Canadian-born, New Zealand-bred, Iowa-educated Catton is the youngest author to ever win the award.

A 848 page doorstopper, The Luminaries is an epic set in the gold fields of Victorian-era New Zealand. The novel is organized according to astrological principles, “so that characters are not only associated with signs of the zodiac, or the sun and moon (the “luminaries” of the title), but interact with each other according to the predetermined movement of the heavens, while each of the novel’s 12 parts decreases in length over the course of the book to mimic the moon waning through its lunar cycle.” The Luminaries was officially released in the United States yesterday. Catton’s first novel, The Rehearsal, was published two years ago.

According to Julie Bosman‘s dispatch, Catton “looked stunned” after she was announced the winner before thanking her publishers, Granta and Little, Brown, for striking the “elegant balance between making art and making money.”

Catton beat out a diverse, formidable array of nominees: the bookies’ favorite, Jim Crace, established writers Colm Toibin and Jhumpa Lahiri, newcomer NoViolet Bulawayo, and fellow Canadian Ruth Ozeki. The Man Booker Prize includes a cash award of £50,000 (roughly $80,000 in real money).

The prize has recently come under fire for its controversial decision to change its guidelines to allow American authors to be eligible (historically, the prize has been awarded to an English language novel originating in the Commonwealth of Nations, the Republic of Ireland, or Zimbabwe). Yesterday, before the announcement, previous Booker-winner Julian Barnes denounced the decision to extend eligibility to the award to Americans, saying “I think it’s generally a bad idea. I think that prizes thrive on having some restriction to them.” Jim Crace and Howard Jacobson have also criticized the expansion of eligibility. (You can read our coverage of it here, here, and here.)

Representatives from the mediocre folk rock band The Lumineers have not responded to requests for comment on The Luminaries’ Man Booker victory.


Alex Shephard is the director of digital media for Melville House, and a former bookseller.