NZ's Eleanor Catton wins Man Booker book prize

She is the youngest writer to win the top award for writers in English outside the US.

New Zealand author Eleanor Catton, 28, has become the youngest writer to win the Man Booker Prize, the top award for writers in English outside the US.

Her novel The Luminaries is also only the second by a New Zealander to win the prize, which went to Keri Hulme in 1985 for her novel The Bone People.

Ms Catton was up against some of the world’s top-rated writers, including Ireland’s Colm Toibin and US-based Jim Crace.

Others short-listed were Indian-born Jhumpa Lahiri, Zimbabwe's NoViolet Bulawayo and Canada's Ruth Ozeki.

The Luminaries is Ms Catton’s second novel and is set against the Hokitika gold rush days in the 19th century. It has already become a bestseller in New Zealand and highly praised overseas for its scope and complexity.

The Duchess of Cornwall presented Ms Catton with the £50,000 ($NZ100,000)  award at London's Guildhall.

Judge, Stuart Kelly says The Luminaries reads like "a Kiwi twin peaks."

Book blogger Graham Beattie, who correctly tipped Ms Catton to win and who has attended the prize-giving, has this background on The Luminaries:

At over 800 pages, Catton's tome follows the story of the New Zealand gold rush. Its protagonist Walter Moody arrives in the country in 1866 to find a group of 12 men discussing a wealthy man who has vanished, a whore who has tried to end her life and a huge fortune discovered in the home of a down-on-his-luck drunk. Moody is drawn into the gripping mystery set in the gold-rush boom and bust of the mid-19th century.

In her review of the novel, The Guardian's Kirsty Gunn said, "...every sentence of this intriguing tale set on the wild west coast of southern New Zealand during the time of its goldrush is expertly written, every cliffhanger chapter-ending making us beg for the next to begin. The Luminaries has been perfectly constructed as the consummate literary page-turner."

The Independent's Simmy Richman wrote, "Yes it's big. Yes it's clever. But do yourself a favour and read The Luminaries before someone attempts to confine its pleasures to the screen, big or small. It may not be the thing to say these days, but this is a story written to be absorbed from the page."

Lesley McDowell of The Scotsman asked, "Where is the New Zealand Charles Dickens or George Eliot?" adding, "To even ask the question is an act of colonialism, imposing the values of one nation on another. All of which makes me wonder about Eleanor Catton's expansive, and in many places, quite superb, new work."

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