Booker win 'has been such a ride'

By Patrice Dougan

Winning the Man Booker prize was like being "plunged into a bath of ice", Eleanor Catton said.

Catton, 28, won the prize for her novel The Luminaries at a gala dinner in London yesterday.

When she heard her name read out as winner she heard "a whiteness and roaring in my ear", Catton told TV3's Campbell Live. "There's a lot of pressure when Camilla Parker-Bowles is sharing the stage with you.

"My mouth just became so dry when I was speaking, and I felt like I'd acquired about 10 extra teeth.

"But it's just been such a ride for me, it's been so much fun."

Catton said the prize had made her feel more like a New Zealander.

"One of the kind of strange consequences for me of the Man Booker and all the fuss that's been happening ever since the long-list came out is that I feel more like a New Zealander than ever," she said.

"I feel so proud and so excited to be showing the world that there's really exciting things happening in our country on a literary level, and I'm not alone in this by any means."

She said New Zealanders were starting to "feel confident that our stories are worth telling".

Speaking from the awards dinner, Catton said she was "just absolutely over the moon".

She had prepared a speech but had superstitiously hidden it at the bottom of her handbag to avoid tempting fate.

"And then I had to root through to find it and it was very embarrassing," she told Radio New Zealand.

She thanked her publishers and agent and her "beloved, Steve Toussaint, whose kindness, patience and love is written on every page of my book".

Asked how the win would change her life, she said it was a little bit daunting.

"I'm a tiny wee bit worried, I don't know how this is going to solidify in my mind in the days to come, but I'm really conscious of the fact that struggle is really important for art and if artists stop struggling they lose something, they lose a kind of intensity or whatever it is, so I'm going to have to keep that in mind in the years to come.

"I really don't want to rest on my laurels in any way."

In winning the Booker, the Auckland writer has become the youngest to take the prize, worth 50,000 ($94,984).

The Luminaries, an epic historical novel, is set in 1866 gold-rush Hokitika. The 832-page murder-mystery is narrated by 12 men aligned to 12 signs of the zodiac.

New Zealand's first Booker prizewinner, Keri Hulme - whose novel The Bone People won in 1985 - said The Luminaries would raise the profile of New Zealand literature.

There have already been reports of a spike in sales of The Luminaries following news of the win.

Joan Mackenzie, book manager at Whitcoulls on Queen St, said there had been "a big uplift" since the win was announced.

"Every so often a book comes along that sparks a particular level of interest and I think it's been helped by the quality of the reviews and obviously the Booker shortlisting, but it stands on its own as a work of real merit, and I think people responded to that."

Auckland libraries already have a backlog of more than 1000 eager readers waiting to borrow a copy. All of the library's 133 copies are out on loan, with only six rental copies available. Members must pay a fee of about $5.20 to rent one of those copies. A library spokeswoman said 45 more copies had been ordered.

What is the Man Booker Prize?

One of the world's top literary prizes awarded each year for the best original full-length novel. The book must be written in English by a citizen of the Commonwealth, Ireland or Zimbabwe. From next year authors from anywhere in the world will be considered as long as their work is published in the UK in English. The prize has been going for 45 years.

What does it mean to win?

The winner of the Man Booker Prize is generally assured of international success. It is a mark of distinction to be selected for the shortlist or even to be nominated for the 13-novel "longlist". The winner gets 50,000 ($95,000).

Have any other New Zealand authors won it?

Kiwi author Keri Hulme won the Booker in 1985 for The Bone People. Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones was on the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize in 2007.

What is The Luminaries about?

The 832-page novel is set during the goldrush in Hokitika in 1866. Walter Moody has come to make his fortune in the goldfields but on arrival he stumbles across a gathering of 12 men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery. The novel is full of astrological allusions, but reads as a Victorian thriller.

Where does it rate against other Kiwi achievements?

Open Polytechnic's Luke Strongman, whose PhD thesis was on the Booker Prize, said he could not overstate what an achievement winning was. Only the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize were comparable on the literary stage. Manukau Institute of Technology head of the school of creative writing Robert Sullivan said winning the Booker was like winning the Rugby World Cup "by yourself".

- APNZ

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