You are here

Weekly Roundup: Eleanor Catton, Kiwi or Canuck?

Weekly Roundup: Eleanor Catton, Kiwi or Canuck?

The Man Booker International Prize has just announced the formation of an “e-council” of former Man Booker Prize winners and judges to help direct the reading of the 2015 MBI panel. It is hoped that the collective experience of the e-council - so-far more than 80 strong - will throw up suggestions of new and interesting names for Marina Warner and her fellow judges to consider. The e-council includes such luminaries (to use the word of the moment) as Hilary Mantel, A.S. Byatt and Vidia Naipaul. 

Talking of luminaries, this year's Man Booker winner, Eleanor Catton, offered some interesting advice to would-be writers in an interview after her triumph. In differentiating between writers she admires and writers who have influenced her work she listed among the latter Frances Hodgson Burnett, Willard Price, Michael Morpurgo, Roald Dahl and J.K. Rowling. “I think that writers of literary fiction would do well to read more books for children,” she said. “The project of the writer for children is so honest, because they can’t be self-indulgent. Children can see self-indulgence a mile away.”

Catton's nationality has stirred debate in the two countries that claim her as their own – Canada, where she was born and lived to the age of six, and New Zealand, where she has lived ever since. An enterprising writer in Canada's National Post decided to settle the matter by devising a formula to measure Canadianness. In short, it states that “when evaluating a person’s Canuckitude, a year spent in Canada during one’s childhood or college years will serve to arithmetically offset four years spent away from Canada”. By this measure Eleanor Catton is a Kiwi and not a Canuck. The clincher, the writer points out, is that however good a writer she may be she's no good at ice hockey.

One constant of the coverage of Catton's win has been mentions of her age (for those who have been living in a yurt on the steppes of Central Asia, she is 28, the youngest ever MB winner). Catton herself feels she has been “bullied” by male reviewers d'un certain age. She rises above sniffy and patronising comment though with magnificent disdain: “One of those things that you learn in school about any kind of bullying is that it's always more to do with them than it is to do with you. I don't see that my age has anything to do with what is between the covers of my book, any more than the fact that I am right-handed. It's a fact of my biography, but it's uninteresting.”

When a novelist is shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize it is recognition that he or she has created a work of art. It is only fair then that they are given a work of art in return. On the evening of the prize itself the six shortlistees are presented with a specially-bound edition of their book. The presentation copies of this year's nominees are on display in the Foyer of Waterstones on Piccadilly in London until Wednesday. So if you want to see these miracles of the bookbinder's art – symphonies in leatherwork and embossing – then now is your last chance before the books return to their rightful owners.