Family treks carved into Catton's heart and mind

Man Booker prize-winning novelist Eleanor Catton recalls childhood excursions to the Souther Alps in a Guardian newspaper column. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Man Booker prize-winning novelist Eleanor Catton recalls childhood excursions to the Souther Alps in a Guardian newspaper column. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton has recalled affectionate memories for British readers about wonderful South Island family holidays she had as a child. In a column in Britain's Guardian newspaper, the 28-year-old said her father, an expatriate American, and mother chose to live in Christchurch because of the city's proximity to the mountains and, in particular, Arthur's Pass - "the mountain village that was and is my father's spiritual touchstone, his chapel and cathedral in the wild".

In her column Catton said her father would make them trek for hours to reach summits - "or whatever spot was deemed by my father to be of adequately punishing distance from the car to deserve lunch".

He would then claim to have forgotten his Swiss Army knife and cut into cheese with his credit card, which Catton said was more interesting to her than looking at a cloud-filled valley at the time.

"It is this kind of detail that I remember - the credit card, waxy and oiled along its edge - from our expeditions into the hills.

"I can recall the clean-smelling interiors of each rental car, always a different model and a slightly different shape; the empty glove box; the chipped toes of my boots; and how my hands became swollen and too weak to make a fist after a day of walking uphill."

But Catton did not remember the views from her childhood trips.

"In fact I am sure that I never experienced, as a child, any kind of encounter with the sublime, that catch in the throat, that tightness of the lungs, that sudden, roaring sense of one's extreme smallness in a huge, awful, beautiful world."

That has changed, however, with the author saying she could now be moved to tears by a peak.

She said travel brochures tried to capture the quality of New Zealand's panoramas with adjectives like pristine, untouched or majestic.

"But the words seem cheap and insubstantial, however accurate they may be, in the face of the real thing."

- APNZ

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