A suitably entrancing winner sends the Booker prize on its way to a bigger stage

 

Share

After 44 years, in its final edition not open to American authors, the Man Booker Prize has gone out (or at least changed shape) with a truly pyrotechnic bang. Canadian-born, raised in Yorkshire but resident in New Zealand (which country’s 1860s Gold Rush inspired her massive, virtuosic novel), Eleanor Catton in her own background almost embodies the now-defunct Booker remit of British-and-Commonwealth fiction.

The youngest winner, for only her second novel, Catton at 28 nonetheless returns the prize to something like home territory.

Ever since the award broke through to global renown in 1981, around the time that Salman Rushdie won for Midnight’s Children, it has often made its biggest splash with epic storytelling that merges wide-screen appeal with the dramatisation of places, periods and people far from the metropolitan mainstream.

Think of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, Peter Carey’s True History of The Kelly Gang or Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. Even Hilary Mantel’s double victories for her Thomas Cromwell novels – Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies – cast an estranging spell over Tudor history, turning it exotic.

Far from an orthodox historical novel, The Luminaries unfolds in its rough, gold-crazy settlement, Hokitika, via a kaleidoscopic narrative.

Informed by contemporary occult ideas and by the astrology that governs the interaction of its cast, it plays on ideas of light and darkness, illumination and benightedness. Its formal sophistication reminds us of Catton’s theatre background and her flair for the arts of illusion.

Her systematic use of the zodiac map and of the theory of the “humours” to arrange a complex and teemingly populated plot feels both archaic and contemporary – almost like conceptual art, indeed.

As with her 19th-century diction and prose rhythms, it suggests that Catton has not merely inherited or mimicked an antique style of fiction but set out to reinvent it for our times. This, then, is a thoroughly modern – or perhaps, postmodern – novel masquerading as an elaborate period piece.  Its play of tricks and disguises, of stories that enthral but then deceive, connects it with the neo-Victorian Booker-winning epics of Carey or AS Byatt (in Possession). Confident, colourful and subtle, Catton commands a fictional voice all her own.

At the same time, her novel carries on the distinctive line of this award so far. Next year, with the Americans in residence, it enters another house entirely. What fresh illumination will that bring?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A press image from the company  

If men are so obsessed by their genitals, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities of sex?

Chloë Hamilton
Workers clean the area in front of the new Turkish Presidential Palace prior to an official reception for Republic day in Ankara  

Up Ankara, for a tour of great crapital cities

Dom Joly
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory