In the interests of full disclosure I will admit I've owned The Luminaries only a few minutes. But I do own it. I bought it before I said anything about its author, lest I be accused of tall poppy syndrome.

That's because we're about to embark on a (mostly) Google-powered quest to unpick the existence, or otherwise, of the renowned tall poppy syndrome, which is famous enough to have a Wikipedia page and real enough to have cut down virtually every successful person this country has produced.

Lorde complained about it. Someone complained on Charlotte Dawson's behalf. You can type almost any successful Kiwi's name into the internet and you'll find proof of how we en masse made it our business to chop them down.

You mightn't believe it exists when you consider the exaggerated state of national celebration we erupt into every time a local does anything half decent. The Prime Minister appeared on Letterman. Put it on the news! Peter Jackson made a movie. Repaint all our planes! Steven Adams made the NBA. Watch basketball! For the first time ever.


And there are times when we appear to rather than pick on the tallest, pack-attack the weakest. Especially when they're already losing. Just ask the Black Caps about that.

Down the corridor from me works a very brainy, very tall man. He likes sharing his opinions. He's a prime target for a felling. He tells me it's worse elsewhere. Look at England.

Before I even start on this comparison, I apologise in advance for likening Eleanor Catton to J K Rowling. Yes, the difference in literary contributions is noted.

Still, it does seem the Harry Potter creator copped it harder than our author. Catton might not have won the NZ Post Book Award - we now know that offended her - but at least she started the palaver about that herself.

Poor old J K Rowling suffered a public snubbing of an epic order. One of her Harry Potter offerings was up for the Whitbread book award. A judge wouldn't allow it to win. He threatened to resign. So, J K Rowling came second, the award went to a book you've never heard of and the public read all about it.

I ask another colleague whether he thinks we make a national sport of cutting down high achievers.

"No!" he virtually shrieks. "Only when they're being dicks."

I wouldn't want to call Catton a dick. A woman with a vocabulary like hers deserves a better epithet than that. But name-calling aside, he might have a point.

It was a surprisingly candid admission - if you read between the extremely well-spaced and navigable lines - that Catton expected to win the NZ Post Book Award.

You might've forgotten by now but, only hours after winning the Man Booker, she offered a surprisingly candid slagging off of Kiwi reviewers.

If you felt a bit cross about either of those comments, it's probably not because you have a bad case of dragging down champions. You probably just thought saying those things out loud was bad form.

There's a nice quote on the Wikipedia page. It's from an Australian journalist who argues that it's not success that brings out tall poppy syndrome. "It's the affront committed by anyone who starts to put on superior airs."

That probably sums it up nicely. It's not that we don't want Kiwis to achieve success, it's that we don't want them to change once they've achieved it. Or, as my colleague put it, they can be winners, but they shouldn't be dicks.