Multitudes tackle mighty read

By Kathryn Powley

Award-winning tome features in pre-Christmas buying frenzy.

Eleanor Catton. Photo / David White
Eleanor Catton. Photo / David White

New data reveals how many holidaymakers headed off for a summer break lugging an extra 1.1kg of reading.

Sales figures provided by Nielsen Bookscan show a sharp surge in demand for Eleanor Catton's Man Booker Prize-winning tome The Luminaries - the longest winner ever - as people rushed to buy it as the perfect Christmas present.

In the commercially sensitive, competitive world of selling books, getting an accurate picture of sales is tricky. Nielsen counts more than half of retails sales but not those of Whitcoulls. Nielsen said 7100 copies sold the week before Christmas, a 260 per cent increase on a month earlier.

Whitcoulls is careful not to reveal exact sales figures and couldn't respond in time for this article, but The Luminaries was the top-selling title in New Zealand last year with 42,000 sales in New Zealand alone, by Neilsen figures.

It carried its considerable weight internationally, too. Nielsen tallied 200,000 worldwide, including 60,000 in the UK, 56,000 in the US and 38,000 in Australia.

But local publisher of the big read, Victoria University Press' Fergus Barrowman, said the true figures would be higher. "We have sold more than 75,000 copies in New Zealand."

E-book sales had exceeded 7000 by late November and were still going strong. "I've been totally thrilled. I knew how good it was and had great belief in it from early on, but so many things have to fall into place for a book to have this kind of success."

For those struggling with the prospect of just getting started, Barrowman said people who had read it on e-readers were less daunted by its size. "They could get immersed in it and not be thinking of how far through they were and just let it flow."

He expected another surge when European language translations appeared this year. He said Catton was booked for fairs in Brazil, Italy, Spain, France and Germany, timed to promote translations in those markets.

Barrowman said Catton was now having a break from the limelight in the United States. "It's all been enormous for her, and she's ready for some quiet private life to settle her head."

A murder mystery set in New Zealand's West Coast during the 1860s gold rush, with a structure based on astrological signs, The Luminaries was described by Man Booker judges as "dazzling, luminous, vast".

The novel was 22 on Amazon.com's Best Books for 2013, was named as one of the New York Times' top 100 notable books of 2013, and is number 15 on The Times' best sellers' list.

A balancing act to finish it

Labour MP for Wellington Central Grant Robertson took to Twitter yesterday to proudly announce he'd finished The Luminaries, calling it "superb".

He told the Herald on Sunday it took him about a week and he thoroughly enjoyed it. "It's a commitment," Robertson said. He'd bought the hard cover version just before Christmas, undaunted by its mass. "I perfected a model of lying down with it balanced on my torso. I knew that I had a substantial torso for a reason, and now I've discovered it."

- Herald on Sunday

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