The Man Booker Prize

2013 - Eleanor CattonĀ 

Born: 24 September 1985, Canada

Author's quote: "Reason is no match for desire: when desire is purely and powerfully felt, it becomes a kind of reason of its own. "

Field: Fiction

Prize share: 1/1

Books Written By Eleanor Catton

About Eleanor Catton

Catton was born in Canada where her New Zealand father was a graduate student completing his doctorate at the University of Western Ontario. She grew up in Christchurch after her family returned to New Zealand when she was six years old, although she spent a year living in Leeds where she attended Lawnswood School. She referred to this experience as "amazing, but a real eye opener" due to the toughness of the environment. She attended Burnside High School, studied English at the University of Canterbury, and completed a Master's degree in Creative Writing at The Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University of Wellington.

In 2008, Catton was awarded a fellowship to the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was described in 2009 as "this year's golden girl of fiction".

In 2011, she was the Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence at the University of Canterbury. Catton's 2008 debut novel, The Rehearsal, was written as her Master's thesis and deals with reactions to an affair between a male teacher and a girl at his secondary school.

Catton's second novel, The Luminaries, was published in 2013. The novel is set on the goldfields of New Zealand in 1866. It was shortlisted for and subsequently won the 2013 Man Booker Prize making Catton, at the age of 28, the youngest author ever to win the Booker. She was previously, at the age of 27, the youngest author ever to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

In November 2013, Catton was awarded the Canadian Governor General's Literary Award for fiction for The Luminaries.


The Luminaries - Eleanor Catton

By Darryl R. Morris

This astonishing historical novel opens in Hokitika, New Zealand in 1866, a gold mining town along the West Coast of the South Island. Founded two years previously, Hokitika is in the midst of a population boom, as prospectors, hoteliers and other businessmen have flocked there after news of its vast riches and promise of easy wealth has reached people living within and outside of New Zealand. One of those men is Walter Moody, a young Englishman who is trained in law but seeks gold to provide him with material comfort and the start of a new life. He arrives in town after a harrowing and emotionally distressing voyage at sea, and after he checks in at a local hotel he proceeds to its smoking room, where he hopes to unwind with a pipe and a stiff drink. Upon his arrival he notices that 12 men are already there, who appear to be from different backgrounds but also seem to have gathered in secret for a particular reason. The atmosphere in the room is tense and troubled upon his entry, but in his agitated state Moody doesn't sense that he has disturbed them. He is approached by one of the men, while the others appear to direct their attention toward their conversation, and after slowly gaining their confidence the men begin to share their intertwined stories with Moody, and the reason for their confidential meeting.

The story is centered around several mysterious and apparently interconnected occurrences that took place two weeks previously on a single night, including the death of a hermit in a shack overlooking town, the disappearance of a young man who has struck it rich in a gold mine, and the apparent near suicide of the town's most alluring prostitute. Every man in the room claims to be innocent of any direct involvement, yet they all appear to share some responsibility in the events that led up to these crimes, and each one fears that he may be accused and held accountable.

The reader learns more about these 12 men, Moody, and several other key players, as the story takes on a more defined shape. However, just as it seems to become more clear new twists arise and relationships emerge between previously unconnected characters, which made the tale more compelling and delightfully puzzling. I exclaimed out loud numerous times at various points ("Wait, what?" "Whoa!", etc.), and except for one relatively dead spot near the novel's midway point I was captivated from the first page to the last.

No review could adequately convey the intricacy and complexity of this novel, along with its numerous subplots and themes, and Catton's ability to maintain its momentum through 832 pages was akin to a performer riding a fast moving rollercoaster while juggling various objects of different sizes for hours on end. My biggest critique is its ending, which felt rushed and overly tidy, and despite its length I would have preferred for it to have been extended by another 50-100 pages.

"The Luminaries" is a masterful literary symphony, and a work of historical fiction that compares favorably with similarly superb novels such as The Children's Book, The Stranger's Child and The Glass Room. There are few books of this size that I would love to start reading again immediately after finishing it, but this is one of them, and young Ms Catton is to commended for a brilliant novel that should be a strong contender for this year's Booker Prize.

The Luminaries - Eleanor Catton

By Phipedro

This has been one of the most enjoyable novels I have read in many years, both in terms of the narrative and the various ways in which it is told. It's hard, in fact, to disentangle the multiple narrative strands from the overarching wheeling structure necessary to tell them, and the book is consequently a very satisfying and engrossing whole.

I enjoyed the piecemeal construction of the mystery through the reappraisal of the same events from different perspectives, followed by the formal legalistic elucidation, and then the rounding out via the examination of the interactions of the parties. That sounds awfully dry - believe me, the book is anything but, as the process of drawing you in is more or less irresistible.