London (AFP) – New Zealand author Eleanor Catton became the youngest winner of the Man Booker Prize for fiction, claiming the award for her novel “The Luminaries”.
Catton, 28, picked up the 2013 prize at a ceremony at London’s Guildhall, becoming only the second New Zealander to win the prestigious award.
The novel, described as a “Kiwi Twin Peaks”, follows fortune-seeker Walter Moody as he is drawn into a web of mystery during the New Zealand gold rush of the mid-1800s.
Catton thanked the Booker board “for providing the value and the worth for this extraordinary prize” on picking up her award.
She later told a press conference that “it was just a white wall,” when her name was announced.
On her age, she said: “I feel very honoured and proud to be living in a world where the facts of somebody’s biography doesn’t give them a way of how people read their work, and I think that’s true of age and also of ethnicity and all sort of other features of being human.”
Chairman of judges Robert Macfarlane described the 832-page book, the longest work ever to win the prize, as “dazzling”.
“‘The Luminaries’ is a magnificent novel,” he said. “Awesome in its structural complexity, addictive in its storytelling and magical in its conjuring of a world of greed and gold.
“The maturity of this work exists in every sentence, indeed every sentence, and you are astonished by its knowledge and its poise.”
Catton was 25 when she started writing the book and 27 when she completed it.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key led the tributes.
“This is a hugely significant achievement on the world stage for a New Zealander,” Key said in a statement.
“This will be a tremendous boost for young New Zealanders in the arts and is a testament to the obvious talent and hard work of Eleanor Catton.”