Booker Prize: Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries is 'bold' winner
New Zealander is youngest winner of award, but at 832 pages, her 'virtuosic' book is one of the longest
AWARDING the Man Booker Prize to The Luminaries, the second novel by New Zealand author Eleanor Catton, was the "boldest move from a bold list", the Daily Telegraph says.
The 832-page book is "by far the most outwardly virtuosic" of the six shortlisted novels, writes the Telegraph's Gaby Wood. It is also "a gripping murder mystery, and beguilingly playful with its form".
Catton, who, at 28, is the youngest writer to win the prestigious prize, sets her book in 19th century Hokitika, a town on New Zealand's South Island. The year is 1896 and the book's protagonist, Walter Moody, has travelled to Hokitika to make his fortune in a gold rush. Before long he is drawn into a mystery involving a missing wealthy man, a prostitute who has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune which has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk, the BBC reports.
Catton uses the setting to craft a "Victorian sensation novel wrapped in a post-modern experiment", writes Wood.
Writing in The Guardian, Justine Jordan says Catton's second novel "carries forward both her epic ambition and commitment to the sensuous pleasures of reading". At heart, the book is a "compulsive thriller" – a "book to curl up with and devour, intricately plotted and extravagantly described, a pastiche of the Victorian sensation novel in the same smart yet playful vein as Sarah Waters".
Catton's victory, in the last year before the Booker throws open its doors to American writers, represents a "pyrotechnic bang", writes The Independent's Boyd Tonkin. In a sense, it returns the prize to "something like home territory", because it has "often made its biggest splash with epic storytelling that merges wide-screen appeal with the dramatisation of places, periods and people far from the metropolitan mainstream".
Boyd cites Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children – the Booker winner in 1981 – as an example.
The Times says Catton's triumph "marks a moment of hope for aspiring young writers – and one of gloom for the nation's postmen" as they begin delivering copies of the hefty tome.
Not everyone is entirely smitten by the book. In his review of The Luminaries for the Sunday Times, Trevor Lewis says the way Catton structured her novel is "weird".
"Each of the book's 12 sections is exactly half the length of the one before," writes Lewis. "This means, encouragingly, that the narrative speeds up and eventually becomes quite exciting. But it also means that the first 400 pages are comparatively inert. A high price to pay, even for a book of such starry aspiration." ·