The Man Booker Prize is Britain’s most prestigious literary prize, and its latest winner is not only a former Iowa Writers’ Workshop fellow, but also the youngest writer to ever receive the award.
28-year-old Eleanor Catton, born in Canada and raised in New Zealand, was awarded the Man Booker Prize Tuesday for her 832-page tome titled The Luminaries. The prize is awarded annually to a citizen of the Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland or Zimbabwe, though competition will be opened up to the rest of the world beginning in 2014. Recipients of the Man Booker Prize receive £50,000 for their achievement (an amount just shy of $80,000).
After earning an MA in Creative Writing at Australia’s Victoria University, Catton studied at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2008 under the Glenn Schaeffer Fellowship. Afterward, she spent just two years writing The Luminaries, which has since received near-unanimous acclaim from critics and fellow authors alike since its release last month. Clocking in at over 800 pages, the novel also happens to be the longest ever selected for the award.
The Lumineers marks Catton’s second novel after debuting with The Rehearsal. Catton wrote The Rehearsal — a novel which subsequently won the Adam Prize in Creative Writing — when she was just 22 years old.
The chair of judges Robert Macfarlane described the book as a “dazzling work, luminous, vast”. It is, he said, “a book you sometimes feel lost in, fearing it to be ‘a big baggy monster’, but it turns out to be as tightly structured as an orrery”. Each of its 12 chapters halves in length which gives the narrative a sense of acceleration. It is not, however, an extended exercise in literary form. Macfarlane and his fellow judges were impressed by Catton’s technique but it was her “extraordinarily gripping” narrative that enthralled them. “We read it three times and each time we dug into it the yields were extraordinary, its dividends astronomical.” The Luminaries is, said Macfarlane, a novel with heart. “The characters are in New Zealand to make and to gain – the one thing that disrupts them is love.”