2013 Booker Prize winner

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Check KfC's review by clicking here

Check KfC’s review by clicking here

Eleanor Catton has won the 2013 Booker Prize for her 832-page doorstopper, The Luminaries. In one sense, it was a victory for Canada, our second international prize in less than a week after Alice Munro’s Nobel. On the other hand, to check the national chauvinism just a bit, while Catton was born here, her contacts since have been minimal — she grew up in New Zealand (where she now lives) and wrote this book while she was at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. At the very least, we have to share the honor with our New Zealand friends. Only 28 years old, Catton becomes the youngest ever winner of the Booker. The Luminaries is her second novel — her first, The Rehearsal was equally impressive if you go back to my review. She is an exceptional writer who promises to deliver even more in the future.

The Luminaries is a Victorian melodrama/mystery. It opens with a death and an apparent suicide attempt, the arrival in a west New Zealand port of a stranger, and the gathering of a cabal of locals who are all somewhat involved in the deaths. We know all that early — Catton spends most of the novel sketching in the background and delays until the end the full details of her story.

It is also worth noting that the author uses two other devices within the novel. One that I did understand was the use of the golden mean of mathematics — each chapter contains half as many words as the previous ones. That means the first chapter is 360 pages — the last three (of twelve) total 17. Yes, it is a gimmick — but it does add momentum as we come to the conclusion in the novel’s final 150 pages. Her other device, a consistent reference to astrological symbols and relationships, completely passed me by — and I will admit I have read no review that explained why it added to the novel.

booker logoThe Luminaries would have been my second choice of those I have read on the Booker shortlist (I’ll be reading Lahiri’s The Lowland later; Ozecki’s A Tale for the Time Being has no appeal for me), after Jim Crace’s Harvest — and I will admit that one had a particular personal appeal as you will discover if you read my review. Certainly, I have no quarrel with the Booker Jury’s decision, although it is a surprise. By way of example, on Trevor’s Booker forum, the Crace had 11 out of 14 first place votes — Catton had only one.

Every bit as interesting for we Canadians, however, is what the Real Giller Prize Jury will have to say. The Luminaries was eligible — and did not even make the long list. I’m guessing, but I would suggest that Catton’s authorly “gimmicks” (I mean that as descriptive, not judgmental) landed well with the Booker Jury, but were a big problem for the Giller threesome.

8 Responses to “2013 Booker Prize winner”

  1. Sheila OBrien Says:

    Excellent post! You called it a ” doorstopper”!

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    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Well, as I mentioned in my original review, it is printed on very good, thick paper in quite large type. There are “small” 800 page books and there are large ones — this is one of the latter.

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  2. Lee Monks Says:

    I’m delighted for Eleanor Catton – incredibly accomplished for 28 years old – and it’s hard to quibble: it’s a mammoth tome which one of the judges (Natalie Haynes) describes as akin to “getting into a warm bath” etc and it does have the sprawlingly-comforting heft of a Dickens opus. I never got close to finishing it, though, and I think ‘thumping good read’ has edged out ‘literary masterwork’ once again. Poor old Jim Crace: writes a truly exceptional book that should’ve romped home and loses 3-2 on the vote.

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    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Harvest was my favorite so I too feel pangs for Crace — although I can understand why some would have “missed” appreciating his book. I did not have any problems finishing The Luminaries despite its heft (a tribute to the author) — I’d agree that “thumping good read” is probably the positive description that captures it best.

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  3. kimbofo Says:

    I’m delighted for her! Always happy when someone from the Antipodes gets international recognition.

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    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      She is one of those authors whom a number of countries can “claim” (as were a number of the other shortlisted authors) — I’d have to say that New Zealand has the strongest case. I did think about her last week when Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize was announced — Catton is nine years younger than Munro was when she published her first story. I’d say those of us who like her have a lot of reading ahead of us.

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      • kimbofo Says:

        And yet, there’s always the fear that she may burn out early… I’m thinking of Australia’s late Randolph Stow who achieved extraordinary recognition at a young age (he won the Miles Franklin when he was 23) but then withdrew from the literary stage and spent much of his life in relative obscurity.

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      • KevinfromCanada Says:

        Point taken. Although from what I have seen of her, Catton is one of those authors whose personal marketing efforts are every bit as effective as her writing.

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