I started this blog in 2009, and began to explore some of the new fiction that was being published. The highlight of my reading year was an obscure debut novel by a young New Zealand writer, which had just been released in the UK. I read it on a whim and thought it was terrific, one of those rare instances of a book embodying the very essence of what speaks to you as an individual reader. I wished everyone could discover what I had found in this book, and was frustrated when, though it got some attention, it seemed a novel destined to remain in relative obscurity.
Four years on, that same writer published her second novel, and I loved it as much as her first. But the circumstances are very different: there’s no obscurity for Eleanor Catton now, because she has won the Man Booker Prize with The Luminaries. I’ve already written about why I love The Luminaries so much, so I won’t go over that again here. Instead, I’ll say a few words on why I’m so pleased with the Booker result.
For the past few years, it has felt to me that the Booker was stuck in something of a rut; whatever the merits of the individual winning titles, it was starting to seem like a lifetime achievement award for English novelists. Not this time. This year, the Booker has recognised a writer at the start of her career – and what a career it could be.
The Luminaries is a joyous, stubbornly idiosyncratic novel (‘a publisher’s nightmare’, as Catton put it in her acceptance speech) that celebrates and interrogates its own project in equal measure, and it deserves as wide an audience as possible. I want writers to have visions as compelling and individual as Catton’s, and to be able to make a success of them. I can only see the Booker result as a clear signal that this can be done.
On a personal level, of course it’s very pleasing to see my own tastes align so squarely with the Booker jury’s. But Catton’s win also makes me feel that my generation is really starting to make its mark on the literary world (at 28, Catton is the youngest-ever winner of the Booker Prize) – and that’s a good feeling. As long as there are writers like (and yet completely unlike) Catton around, the future of literature looks bright; and I’m confident that she will continue to be a vital voice in it.