October 15, 2013
At 28, Writer Is Youngest to Receive Booker Prize
By JULIE BOSMAN
Eleanor Catton was awarded the Man Booker Prize on Tuesday for “The Luminaries,” an immersive tale set in 19th-century New Zealand that explores identity, greed and human frailty. At 28, Ms. Catton is the youngest winner of the Booker. She was born in Canada and raised in Christchurch, New Zealand. The Booker is Britain’s most prestigious literary prize, awarded annually to a novelist from Britain, Ireland or a Commonwealth country. The winner receives £50,000, or about $80,000. Looking stunned after being named the winner, Ms. Catton said that her lengthy, complex novel was “a publisher’s nightmare.” She then thanked her publishers for striking the “elegant balance between making art and making money.” The book was released by Granta in Britain and Little, Brown and Company in the United States. At 848 pages, it is the longest book to win the Booker Prize. The other nominees were “We Need New Names,” by NoViolet Bulawayo, a debut novel about a 10-year-old girl who journeys from Zimbabwe to the United States; “Harvest,” by Jim Crace, a dark, vividly drawn novel about the inhabitants of a small village; “A Tale for the Time Being,” by Ruth Ozeki, about a discovered diary that links people in distant cities; “The Lowland,” by Jhumpa Lahiri, about brothers living in post-colonial India; and “The Testament of Mary,” by Colm Toibin, a slim, 81-page portrait of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This year’s ceremony, broadcast live from Guildhall in London, was especially momentous because it was the last year before the award is opened to entries from the United States and beyond. In September, the Booker Prize Foundation announced that in 2014 the prize would be open to all novels written in English and published in Britain, no matter 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. Jonathan Taylor, chairman of the foundation, wrote at the time: “Paradoxically it has not been allowed full participation to all those writing literary fiction in English. It is rather as if the Chinese were excluded from the Olympic Games.” The winner is selected by the judging panel on the day of the ceremony. Ms. Catton’s first novel, “The Rehearsal,” was widely praised and nominated for awards including the Orange Prize and the Dylan Thomas Prize. She studied at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and was 25 when she began writing “The Luminaries.” Despite her age, “Maturity is evident in every sentence, in the rhythms and balances,” said Robert Macfarlane, chairman of the judges. “It is a novel of astonishing control.” Writing in The Guardian, Kirsty Gunn called “The Luminaries” a “consummate literary page-turner.” “Catton has created her own world in ‘The Luminaries’ — an upside-down, Southern Hemisphere kind of a place with its own astrological calendar that casts its own kind of influence, its own light.” The Booker bestows an author with an instant boost in sales and recognition. Some of the most revered authors in Britain, including Peter Carey, Ian McEwan, and Julian Barnes, have won the prize. Mr. Carey, an Australian, has won it twice. Last year, the prize was given to Hilary Mantel for “Bring Up the Bodies,” her second Booker victory. She previously won in 2009, for “Wolf Hall,” the first book in her planned trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Correction: October 18, 2013 An article on Wednesday about the winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize referred imprecisely to an earlier winner, the author Peter Carey. While Mr. Carey, whose works have captured two Man Booker prizes, is among the writers most revered in Britain, he is Australian — not British.