16 Oct 2013

Catton wins Booker Prize

9:44 pm on 16 October 2013

New Zealand author Eleanor Catton's novel The Luminaries has won the Booker prize for English language literature.

Catton is only the second New Zealander, and the youngest author ever, to win the prestigious literary award. The 28-year-old is also the youngest short-listed writer in the competition's 45-year history.

The prize, announced at a ceremony in London, carries a cheque for $95,000.

Accepting the award, Catton said the prize is all the more incredible because her book has been a publisher's nightmare from the very beginning.

"The shape and form of the book made certain kinds of editorial suggestions not only mathematically impossible but - even more egregious - astrologically impossible."

The judges said her book, which beat five other contenders, is an exuberant and dazzling homage to Victorian sensation novels.

Catton's New Zealand publisher Fergus Barrowman told Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme on Wednesday the win is not only a tremendous achievement for her, but will have a spin-off for other New Zealand writers.

"A success like this is a reminder that books can come from anywhere, and often the most interesting, freshest and most lively books come from outside the main centres. So she's going to do a great service to New Zealand writers in terms of offering them opportunities and making them visible."

The Luminaries is an 832-page murder mystery set on the West Coast during the 1860s gold rush that relies on an astrological narrative.

It follows in the footsteps of Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2007, and The Bone People by Keri Hulme, which won in 1985.

Prime Minister John Key says winning the Booker Prize is a hugely significant achievement on the world stage for a New Zealander.

The Michael King Writers' Centre and the National Library are also among those offering congratulations, with the library saying it takes pride in noting the author used it as a base for some research.

New Zealand Book Council chief executive Catriona Ferguson says sales of The Luminaries should rise substantially.

"Previous winners have seen an increase in sales of between 400 percent to almost 2000 percent. So it really does get your name and it does get your book out there."

Ms Ferguson says the novel is being released soon in the United States, and it will now have a guaranteed audience after winning the Booker Prize.