TWENTY-eight year-old New Zealander Eleanor Catton last night became the youngest author to win the Man Booker Prize.
At 832 pages, her novel, The Luminaries, is also the longest to win Britain’s £50,000 premier literary award in its 45-year history.
The story of Edinburgh-born Walter Moody, who is drawn into a mystery when he attempts to make his fortune in the gold rush that swept New Zealand’s South Island in 1865-6, it is remarkable for the way in which it uses astrological charts as a plotting device.
In the novel, 12 disparate characters, orbit round two central lovers – the luminaries [or sun and moon] of the title.
The plot has strong echoes of the drama-rich Victorian sensation novel, and is replete with fake identities, stolen gold, opium dealers, illegitimate siblings, theft, blackmail and murder.
For some critics, the intricacy of the astrological overlay was marred by a certain lack of psychological depth in its characters.
To others, especially those who love to immerse themselves in a brilliantly recreated fictive world, Catton’s novel confirms the arrival of a major talent.
Robert Macfarlane, chairman of the Man Booker judges, said last night: “The Luminaries is a magnificent novel, awesome in its structural complexity, addictive in its storytelling and magical in its conjuring of a world of greed and gold.”
The Luminaries, at 11/4, was second-favourite to Jim Crace’s Harvest on an impressively wide-ranging shortlist.
The judges took two hours to reach their final decision last night. It was arrived at through discussion and without a vote.