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Weekly Roundup: Was Eleanor Catton's victory written in the stars?

Weekly Roundup: Was Eleanor Catton's victory written in the stars?

As a new national heroine in New Zealand, on a par with the All Blacks rugby team, Eleanor Catton was quickly congratulated on her Man Booker Prize win by the proud New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. In a neat symbol of the elasticity of the written word, his approbation arrived not in the form of a note written on stiff, embossed government-headed notepaper but on Twitter. So that’s 140 characters in response to Catton’s 832 pages.

In her acceptance speech Catton made a point of thanking her publishers, Granta, for giving her free rein and not forcing her down the path of commercialism. She also played with the notion of astrology that has such an important role in the book: “The Luminaries is and was from the very beginning, a publisher's nightmare”, she said. “The shape and form of the book made certain kinds of editorial suggestions not only mathematically impossible, but even more egregious, astrologically impossible.” Roughly translated that means she thanks her lucky stars

One tangible indication of the power of a Man Booker win is that Granta is immediately publishing a further 25,000 copies of The Luminaries. The new books – with her win emblazoned on the cover – will be in the shops on Monday. And to think there are some people who believe publishers can only operate at a snail’s pace … Shame on you.

Was Eleanor Catton's victory written in the stars? Quite possibly. She was born 28 years ago, "the time that Saturn takes to orbit around the Earth" and an important astrological number, in 1985, the year of New Zealand’s only other Man Booker win – Keri Hulme with The Bone People.

During the press conference that followed her win, Catton – the last winner of the prize under the old rules – gave her stamp of approval to the new-look prize, open from next year to American novelists too: “I think it's a really great thing that finally we've got a prize that is an English-language prize that doesn't make a distinction for writers who are writing from a particular country,” she said. 

In a fresh take on the judging process, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, one of this year’s five wise men and women, has likened the process (tangentially it’s true) to the risqué “Confessions of…” films of the 1970s. Surely a literary first. Perhaps more pertinently he summed up in one short sentence just why he thought The Luminaries was a worthy winner: it “makes the novel seem novel again”.