Man Booker winner Catton mines rich seam after gold rush tale

Wed Oct 16, 2013 12:02pm EDT
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By Paul Casciato

LONDON (Reuters) - Eleanor Catton, 28, is the youngest author and her 800-plus page "The Luminaries" the longest novel to win the Man Booker literary prize. But age and length should be no criteria for judging a work of fiction, she says.

"I don't see why age should be a barrier in the same way that I don't see that ethnicity should be a barrier," the New Zealander told Reuters after she became the surprise winner on Tuesday night.

One of the world's most prestigious literary prizes, the Man Booker not only carries a 50,000-pound ($79,800) cash award but also can help turn a literary work into a best seller.

Catton took issue with the notion that her book, which clocks in at 832 pages of text, plus a few pages more for explanatory materials, could put off potential readers.

"A good book is a book that deserves to be its length," she said. "That could be true of a short book or it could be true of a long book - the length is the vessel that is containing the story and it's the right vessel."

Seen in those terms, her second novel is a supertanker.

Set in the 19th-century gold rush in western New Zealand, it has a sprawling plot and cast of characters that take in a blackmailing schooner captain, murder, a whore with a heart of gold, her lover and "astral twin", opium and gold smuggling, a secretive group of businessmen trying to get to the bottom of what is going on in the boomtown of Hokitika, exploited Chinese workers and, for good measure, a sadistic prison warden.

Each chapter starts with a three or four line "precis" that looks like it might give away the plot, but never does, in a work that reads at times like a mystery novel and at others like a time traveler's view of a vanished civilization.   Continued...

New Zealand writer Eleanor Catton, winner of the Man Booker Prize 2013, poses for photographs at the Guildhall in central London, October 15, 2013. REUTERS/Olivia Harris